Dr Timothy Sharp: the pursuit of happiness
This is it! Today's the day you stop settling for 'okayness' and learn to live happy. According to Dr Timothy Sharp, true happiness is a choice – and six steps can help you make it now...
Clinical and coaching psychologist Dr Timothy Sharp answers to 'Dr Happy' these days, but he hasn't always felt like smiling. After quitting university early feeling lost, he contracted a crushing case of hepatitis while backpacking in Greece and suffered his "lowest ebb, emotionally and physically". Then he had an epiphany – right in the middle of a social security queue in Cairns.
As he stood surrounded by a sense of helplessness, Sharp realised two things: "It's hard to be happy if you're literally sick and tired. And life's not a spectator sport – you've got to take it by the scruff of the neck and get involved." Thus inspired, he walked out without submitting a single form.
Fast-forward past a Master's Degree and Ph.D., a stint in academia and one of Sydney's most successful private practices and these two simple thoughts remain key to his psychological strategy.
Now chief grinner at The Happiness Institute, a cheery collective of psychology coaches, Dr Sharp tells how everyone can go from the doldrums to clinically happy…
Bh: What motivated you to study happiness and start The Happiness Institute?
Dr Sharp: "I was working with a woman who'd presented with a moderately significant degree of depression. After a few months of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), she had made good progress.
"I was pleased for my client, but something wasn't quite right… Although this woman wasn't clinically depressed, she wasn't happy. I realised the absence of depression isn't the same as happiness.
"And thus was born my current mission: to learn more about happiness and other positive emotions and teach those principles to as many people as possible."
What is positive psychology as coached at the Happiness Institute and why do 'normal' people need it?
"Historically, clinical and counselling psychology has focussed almost exclusively on helping those who are distressed and/or dysfunctional and helping them identify and fix their faults.
"But it's only partially true that fixing faults will help improve peoples' lives. Although overcoming difficulty is important, it might, at best, help them improve from -10 to 0. But is 0, or what The Happiness Institute calls 'okayness', really good enough?
"Positive psychology aims not just to remove the negatives, but to move from zero to +10! The ultimate goal is to experience a meaningful and wonderful range of positive emotions, including happiness."
You've called happiness a choice and a goal to be worked for. But isn't it an organic emotion?
"Although a portion of our happiness is determined by our genetic make-up and our current circumstances, there’s no doubt that a more significant portion of our happiness is determined by the choices we make; how, for example, we interpret our circumstances and respond to others or difficulties.
"I definitely believe that happiness is comparable to fitness in that, if we want to make better choices more often, we need to 'train', just like we do in the gym. The good news is, however, that the more we practice the proven strategies of positive psychology, the more we’ll experience happiness."
It’s only natural to feel ‘negative’ emotions and have ‘down’ moments. How do you live with them happily?
"I don’t believe 'happiness' means being ecstatically happy every minute of every day.
"True happiness involves recognising that, as humans, it’s perfectly normal to experience the full range of emotions, including 'negative' ones such as anger, sadness, anxiety and stress…
"What happy people tend to do, however, is get on top of things more effectively and quickly. They acknowledge these emotions rather than deny them, they put things in perspective and deal with them constructively, they utilise more active coping strategies and they also reach out and utilise support."
Dr Happy's prescription for happiness: CHOOSE
The six strategies of positive psychology from The Happiness Institute. Start training now!
C = Clarity of goals, direction and life purpose
Set positive goals and clear, SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed) plans for reaching them.
H = Healthy living, with good exercise, nutrition and sleep
A healthy, energetic body promotes a motivated, focussed mind.
O= Optimism. Be positive and realistic
Practice challenging negative thoughts and planting positive ones. Dr Sharp notes that, even when times are trying, happy people "put things in perspective and deal with them constructively".
O = Others. Cultivate key relationships
"Happiness is not a selfish or solo pursuit but, rather, one that depends on building and maintaining good quality relationships with others and connecting and engaging with our communities…
"This does not mean, however, that we should count on others to make us happy. This would be risky and leave much of our happiness beyond our control," says Dr Sharp.
S = Strengths. Capitalise on core qualities and attributes
Identify what you're good at and what motivates you – then do it as much as possible. Also recognise your weaknesses to avoid potential problems.
E = Enjoy the moment
Live in the now, knowing what you can control, accepting what you can't and actively seeking happiness every single day.
Having trouble mastering the mindset? The Happiness Institute runs seminars, small workshops and coaching sessions. Visit thehappinessinstitute.com for more information plus free happiness hints and resources.
– Tracey Withers