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Happiness Is...

To visit the Happiness Solution Newsletter, a quarterly publication written by Alan Gettis’87, is to smile. Dr. Gettis, who also has a Ph.D. degree in clinical psychology from Utah State University, is out to help unhappy people find happiness and happy people find even greater happiness.

His newsletter, offered through his Web site, www.DrGettis.com, includes quotes and humor, a nutrition corner (he’s a nutritionist too), a story of the month (November 2009’s story was about Dr. Gettis turning 64, like the song), and closing thoughts. “I am in the process of researching the art and science of happiness. I read everything I can get my hands on that is connected to the subject. I’m confident that most people can be a lot happier than they are. Learning to be happier is like learning any other skill. First you have to find out what you need to think, do, and practice. Then, you have to persist in a diligent fashion. It’s very doable. If people are already happy, I work with them to get them to be happier. If people are unhappy, I work with them so they learn to be happy. That’s what all my writings are about. I think it’s pretty important stuff,” Dr. Gettis says in his Amazon.com profile.

Dr. Gettis has had a full-time private practice as a psychologist in New Jersey for 35 years. He has been making radio and television appearances to share his messages about happiness. That’s in addition to the books he has written on the subject: 2004’s “Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up: Landing on Your Feet in an Upside Down World,” 2006’s “The Happiness Solution: Finding Joy and Meaning in an Upside Down World,” 2008’s “In the Beak of a Duck” (a children’s book of silly poems and zany illustrations), 2009’s second edition (revised and expanded) of “Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up,” and this year’s forthcoming “It’s All Part of the Dance: Finding Happiness In An Upside Down World.”

His first book, “Sun-Faced/Moon-Faced Haiku,” which showcased his accomplishments as a haiku poet, was published in 1983.

In “Seven Times Down,” “The Happiness Solution,” and “It’s All Part of the Dance,” Dr. Gettis uses stories to “instruct and encourage” while addressing issues that keep people from finding happiness. He characterizes “Seven Times Down” as cognitive behavioral therapy meets Zen, the combination of his studies of Eastern philosophy and his many years as a clinical psychologist.

“I learned early on about the power that stories have to stir, teach, move, and truly engage the listener,” Dr. Gettis writes in the acknowledgements to “Seven Times Down.” “I have worked with thousands of patients. Many times when I deemed myself to be brilliant with the psychological jargon I was spouting, I noticed my patients were looking sleepy or bored. But whenever I told them stories, they perked up and could immediately relate to them.”

Dr. Gettis’s Web site explains the development of his specialization in happiness: “There was something missing. Although he had degrees from four different universities and was schooled in psychodynamic, supportive, and cognitive behavioral therapy, there seemed to be a key ingredient that was lacking in his therapeutic approach to helping others heal and thrive. That was in 1969, when his search for the missing ingredient led him to studies of world cultures in general and Zen in particular. As the years passed and he became steeped in stories and Zen wisdom, he knew he had uncovered an important method of helping people to get unstuck and feel happier. Yes, Dr. Alan Gettis believes wholeheartedly in the power of stories.”

He spent two years as a Vietnam era army psychologist in the late 1960s and worked at a large mental health center as chief psychologist in the 1970s before starting his private practice in 1974.

Read an excerpt from “Seven Times Down,” in a chapter titled “A Work in Progress”:

It was in the late 1960s and I was trying to finish up my doctorate at the New School for Social Research in the Greenwich Village section of New York. The Vietnam War was raging and the government decided to stop honoring student deferments. I was drafted. I never really knew what insomnia was until then. In a blink of an eye, my life had been turned upside down.

One minute I was a graduate student spending a lot of time exploring the galleries and coffee houses of New York, with a promising future and a girlfriend I was considering getting married to. Then, all of a sudden, I was transformed into a sleepless, dispirited, unemployed soldier to be, who would have to leave his family and girlfriend and perhaps go off to war. I was anything but a happy camper. In fact, I was quite discouraged.

On my first day of basic training, I had some trouble with the rigorous physical demands. I was a bit overweight and out of shape. I was already lonely and was feeling quite sorry for myself when our drill sergeant singled me out for some attention. He put his face about one inch from mine and screamed at the top of his lungs, “Gettis, you’re a worthless piece of crap!” That was my life in the army – chapter one.

Years later, when I was able to look back somewhat objectively, I was able to appreciate those two years in the military. After my advanced infantry training in Fort Lewis, Washington (1 got to spend time around Seattle), I was assigned to duty in an army hospital and got invaluable experience as a psychologist. I made some good friendships, did some traveling, and later married (that same girl) and finished up my schooling using the benefits from the G.1. Bill.

So, although chapter one had me near hitting bottom, subsequent chapters slowly but surely built toward a happy ending. I guess that’s evidence for a “You never know” philosophy. I think it was Kierkegaard who said that life must be lived forwards but it can only be understood backwards.

You are a work in progress. Despite the content of any previous chapters in your life’s book, there are other chapters to be written. You are the primary author of that book. Others may collaborate with you, but it is your book and the final lines will always be written by you. If you are in the midst of a disheartening chapter, keep the bigger picture in mind as you begin to expect and author more fulfilling chapters in the future.

©2004 Alan Gettis. Reprinted with permission from Goodman Beck Publishing, publisher of 2009’s “Seven Times Down, Eight Times Up: Landing On Your Feet In An Upside Down World: Second Edition Revised and Expanded (Paperback)”