Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bipolar Disorder & Happiness: Read Book "Happier"

How to Be Happier with Bipolar Disorder
There's definitely a plague of self-help books available these days, many written by entirely unqualified people. My mom didn't write a book (she could have), but one of her jems was "Smile more. It will make you happier", advice that I found rather insulting as a person with a mood disorder. Really mom, it's that easy? Poof! I'm still waiting for the scientific article, "Major depression vanquished by more frequent smiling."

In one of my least favorite self-help books,  Simplify Your Life, by Elaine St. James, the author recommends that readers throw out all medication other than aspirin. Honestly? That's some dangerous advice. I hope she has some hefty liability insurance.

Happier by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar
Anyway, I have finally found a self-help book that appears to be different. It's called Happier. Ben-Shahar is a Harvard professor who teaches the most popular class ever offered at Harvard, Positive Psychology (PSY 1504). I have just started the book, which needs to be completed as a workbook, not just a magical thing you read that suddenly makes you happier. Since it requires an investment of time, I plan to complete it over the summer when I am done with school. I'll add updates to this post as I work through the book, to let you know what I find useful.

Why Is Happier Better Than Your Average Self-help Book?
Dr. Ben-Shahar has spent his life studying happiness, and what people can do to make themselves happier. He is not just pulling platitudes out of his bum. He is combining scientific info on the topic with his knowledge as a psychologist, as well as drawing on his experiences with disappointment after reaching various goals throughout his life and then finding that the good feelings associated with his achievements were fleeting. What he thought should be making him happy wasn't. In his book, he describes how to form habits associated with becoming a happier person. Then the reader does the hard work.

Habits Can Change a Person's Mood
I know, from experience, that some of my mood swings are influenced by my response once I see the swing coming. If I feel depression approaching, I know that there are thought processes and behaviors I can engage in that make depression more likely, such as...
  • sleeping a lot
  • isolating myself/withdrawing
  • drinking alcohol
  • focusing on negative thoughts and memories 
  • not reliably taking my meds for depression (Wellbutrin)
...as well as thought processes and behaviors that can help me avoid or reduce the plummet in mood (the opposite of those I've listed). 

Same with mania...
  • lack of sleep
  • being over-sheduled
  • stress from being over-scheduled
  • too much caffeine
  • not taking my meds for managing mania (Seroquel)
These behaviors encourage my hypomania, while the opposite behaviors will often help me head it off.

Give Happier a Try and Share What You Think
So, with this guys credentials, and the fact that the book is about developing habits (the daily practices that define how we live our lives), I think that it probably has something substantial to offer. 

If you feel so inclined, give Happier a read and post a comment on what you think. Perhaps this book could be especially useful for those of us with mood disorders. Let's find out!

Bipolar Stats:

  • Level of Mania (on scale of 1 - 10, with 1=none, 10=practically levitating): 3
  • Level of Depression (on a scale of 1 - 10, with 1=none, 10=can't get out of bed): 3
  • Medication Compliance (0 = not taking, 5=taking some, 10=taking all): 5 (not compliant with Wellbutrin for past few days)
I am recording my mania and depression bipolar data separately because I often have mixed episodes where manic and depressive symptoms occur at the same time.

This blog is for informational purposes only, it is not intended to be used for the treatment of mental illness. If you are having emotional troubles, please see a mental health professional, not a computer. 

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