Saturday 24 February 2018

'To get happy, you have to feel sad first...'

Aware's clinical director explains in her new book that although it might be impossible to be happy all of the time - overcoming life's obstacles can be easier than you think

Worry then be happy: Dr Claire Hayes' unorthodox views work.
Worry then be happy: Dr Claire Hayes' unorthodox views work.
How to Cope

Tanya Sweeney

The whole world knows life in this breakneck world is not without its challenges and strife. Still, the official figures are reason to pause for thought: it is thought that 10pc of the Irish population have experienced some kind of depression or anxiety, while health care professionals have predicted that by 2030, depression will be the number one disorder in the world. Little wonder, then, that there has been a spate of self-help and pop psychology books professing to empower the emotionally vulnerable.

As Clinical Director of depression/anxiety charity Aware, and a psychologist of some repute, Claire Hayes has seen the symptoms and effects of mental health conditions at close range. And the path to emotional wellbeing that she proposes is an unorthodox one: to get happy, one must be entirely willing to feel sad first.

Confused? You won't be for long. Initially, Hayes reminds us of a basic, but often-overlooked truth: it's nigh near impossible to be happy all the time. We've been conditioned - societally and systemically - to think of sadness, despair, fear and anxiety as shameful and wrong.

From the time we were shushed as fussy babies with a biscuit to the times our grazes and bruises were kissed better (or McDonald's-fed better, whatever worked), the message became clear; the negative feelings had to be banished. It has hurt us in the long run, contends Hayes, because most of us have no clue how to handle challenges in life.

Rather, Hayes advises, we need to identify negative feelings and use them as "messengers", telling us what aspect of our lives need to be addressed. Once the way we look at loss, stress, despair, failure and rejection has been recalibrated, we're at least in a position of power to move ourselves out of the quagmire.

The cornerstone of Hayes' coping techniques is cognitive behavioural therapy. In CBT, the emphasis has changed from encouraging people to challenge their own thoughts to gently and compassionately acknowledging they are there, and they exist for a reason. Used for decades in the treatment of OCD, depression, body dysmorphia and addiction, Hayes makes a compelling argument for incorporating CBT into everyday life, for everyone. The way Hayes tells it, most CBT techniques are no more than implementing the stuff of simple common sense and pragmatism. A challenge in today's society, granted… so it certainly bears repeating here.

Amid the great self-help book steeplechase, Hayes' contribution stands out for a number of reasons. Her pared-back language is aimed at readers of every stripe, as is her use of real-life examples. Presumably, the aim of both is to appeal to as far-reaching an audience as possible. Jargon like CBT, mindfulness and rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) is neatly busted for self-help novices. In laying it out in basic terms, readers can ostensibly get on with the business of making themselves feel better.

The big question is of course, does it work? People purchase these books, after all, from a highly emotional place, and the good news is that from that perspective, it's money well spent. Spelling out various case studies and real-life examples, Hayes takes her time getting to the nub of the matter… but get there, in the end, she does.

Her advice on how to overcome several of life's obstacles, from rejection and failure to loss and pressure, is simple, practical and easy to implement straight away. For anyone willing to put the work in, an easier, calmer and less stressful life is nearer to hand than one might think.

Self help

How To Cope: The Welcoming Approach To Life's Challenges

Dr Claire Hayes

Gill & Macmillan, pbk, pp224

Available with free P&P on

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