It is in human nature to strive for happiness. At least once in one’s life, a person wonders about how happy he or she is. Though the category of happiness is a rather subjective one, different people are very much alike in their desire to feel happy.
The book ‘When Am I Going to Be Happy?: How to Break the Emotional Bad Habits That Make You Miserable’ by Penelope Russianoff is concerned with women’s assumption of happiness and the problems that its absence engenders.
The work under consideration is based on a popular course given at the New School in New York City. Its author is a well-known psychologist and speaker famous for her bestseller ‘Why Do I Think I Am Nothing without a Man?’ Penelope Russianoff is known for her ability to do an in-depth analysis of female problems and to make this analysis comprehensible for a general reader, mainly for the female audience.
The main point of the author’s concern in the book under analysis is a variety of negative emotional habits that make women’s life unhappy. Russianoff’s thesis is that once a person becomes aware of these destructive habits, he or she can stop them and become absolutely happy.
The topic for the author’s investigation was inspired by her constant working with patients who were never satisfied with their lives. The author calls them negative personalities (Russianoff, 1997, p.5). Throughout the book, the psychologist analyzes various cases where she deals with people with a negative outlook. The negative outlook is built on various negative habits. Russianoff claims that the most common negative emotional habits are “depression, guilt, rejection, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, helplessness, self-flagellation, hysteria, and various phobias.” (Russianoff, 1997, p.7) Moreover, there are about dozen of others that make people feel pessimistic and in despair (Russianoff, 1997, p.8).
The author assumes that people’s common clinging to their bad emotional habits is determined somehow by the needs of current fashion trends. Being cynical and pessimistic is fashionable nowadays, whereas being positive or upbeat is considered to be cornball (Russianoff, 1997, p.8). Russianoff goes further and suggests that this is a culture that is responsible for forming these habits with a person. The author wonders why in a society where the pursuit of happiness was declared as an inalienable right, there are so many people addicted to habits that ensure their unhappiness. In her book, Russianoff aims at persuading the reader of the importance of seeing the world through bright colors.
The case with dancing with an albatross and the way the author solves the patient’s problem seems to be one of the most persuasive parts of the book. The author states, “You can get rid of the albatross. You can set yourself free of your bad emotional habits. And then you can begin the dance of life.” (Russianoff, 1997, p.10) This argument cannot but grasp the reader’s attention. Further, the author becomes more convincing in her idea of changing her patients’ assumption of the world around from negative into positive:
In the world of emotions, nothing is ever all right or all wrong, all good or all bad, all true or all false. We create our own emotional environment, with our families, on the job, and among our friends, by the way, we look at things. We can create a negative environment and wallow in it, or we can create a positive environment and can succeed in it (Russianoff, 1997, p.10).
Studying the problem of bad emotional habits, the psychologists stress the following issues:
- It is possible to change oneself if there is a strong desire to do it;
- There exist certain techniques of recognizing one’s emotional bad habits;
- The only one who can reject a person is a person himself/herself;
- Talking tenderly to oneself is a necessary tool of getting to know oneself;
- Making your feelings known will help to understand better oneself and change your attitude to the world around you.
The author dwells on the ways of establishing the good emotional habit, helps the readers to break the black mood and get rid of the depression, inspires them to use imagination to establish positive emotional habits, studies the connection between sex and bad emotional habits, anger and anxiety, investigates phobias and obsessions.
The back cover contains an overview of the author’s advice as to how to learn to change the bad emotional habits that make a person’s life unhappy:
- Recognize Your Emotional Bad Habits (and start to break them);
- Throw Off Your Security Blanket (and accept that you can have happiness);
- Talk Tenderly To Yourself (and increase self-esteem);
- Use The “To You-Ness To Me-Ness” Technique (and respond to negative comments with firm conviction, not rage);
- Get Rid Of The Imposter Phenomenon (and stop devaluing yourself);
- Accept Praise (and cease being your own worst critic);
- Stop Measuring Your Self (Russianoff, 1997).
This is in these useful pieces of advice where the true value of the book is rooted. Their simplicity and importance for everyday life made the readers, especially their female part, so involved in the process of reading. The book will never lose its popularity as the problems that the author touched upon there will never stop torturing women’s hearts.
The front cover of the book reminds the reader that Russianoff is known for ‘Why Do You Think I am nothing without a Man?’ which is very feministic by the problems it investigates. Therefore, it seems that the reader is prepared in advance to have a piece of rather feministic reading. Still, the book under consideration does not sound very feministic; the ideas suggested by the author can be considered both by males and females. Russianoff does not go into detail concerning the questions of women’s emancipation. Still, the dominant majority of the cases that the author resorts to by way of example are those where women are active participants.
I cannot but admit that the book is very user-friendly. Being knowledgeable and understanding, author Russianoff writes in such a way that the reader gets an impression that he or she talks to the best friend. The book relates to various spheres of life; in every chapter, one can find something that is worth paying attention to, and that is close to his or her heart.
Though the book does not provide immediate cures, it helps the reader to understand what is going on in his or her mind and heart and gives an opportunity and clear directions as to how to get rid of the bad habits in one’s life. The reader feels inspired to read the book over and over again to incorporate more and more author’s lessons into one’s own life. Everyone who feels insecure, guilty, self-conscious, depressed finds here the remedy for overcoming these feelings. Those who function well but do not feel that they are living to their full potential will also find a lot of useful information in the book.
Personally, I have found a lot of useful ideas that helped me to change my attitude to various life aspects. Most of all, I liked the idea of doing something good for others without expecting anything good in return. The author claims that caring for other people helps a person to become happier. But nothing should be done just because of some good deeds that were previously done for you. The principle ‘You should do this for me because I did this for you does not work here. The book teaches not to feel indignant or abandoned when someone doesn’t reciprocate in the way one expects.
After reading this book, one notices significant changes in his/her attitude to life and, consequently, feels happier. The reader becomes a really different person: more assured about oneself, more confident, and more loving towards oneself.
Unobtrusively, the psychotherapist Russianoff shares her knowledge on Psychology with her audience. Concrete examples from her clients’ experiences are used to illuminate the notion of bad emotional habits and the way to undo them. Practical suggestions that the author of the book offers, like various exercises, a new hobby, making a tape during the good times as a reminder that bad, unhappy events are only temporary, is aimed at helping the reader to break the grip of depression.
If we consider the main concepts that the psychotherapist dwells upon in her book, we will see that they reflect the general knowledge that the scientists have on the problem so far. Let us take, for example, the main problem that the book is focused on, that is, the problem of bad emotional habits.
Many psychotherapists believe that moods constitute bad habits, various psychological problems are seen as bad habits by them. As well as Russianoff’s work, many studies show that people can control their moods (Singhe, 2008 ). When one decides to pretend he or she is happy, one can improve his/her mood in time. Having bad emotional habits, thus, means no trying to have any control over one’s feelings and emotions.
As well as Russianoff, Singhe names the state of being pessimistic as one of the bad habits. This symptom of depression is often a result of a mere habit of thought. We have already talked about the fashion of the culture where pessimism is encouraged to be a win-win way of thinking.
The strategy of win-win thinking means that you are correct in both cases: if things go right, it means you win; if things go wrong, it means you were correct in your predictions. Consequently, you win. If people of this type looked at the positive side of things in the beginning, they would improve their mood.
One more emotional bad habit that the book is concerned with is being in a worrying mood. As Singhe claims that this bad habit and the one of being pessimistic are rather similar with the only difference that “when you worry, you become obsessed and dread upcoming events. If you have the bad habit of worrying, you can slowly train yourself out of it, especially if you have the right kind of help.” (Sihgne, 2008)
Codependency is another bad habit. Actually, it is a set of bad habits that encourages a loved one to do harmful behavior. Signe suggests an example when a parent has an alcoholic son. This parent constantly makes excuses for the son’s behavior to others. If the parent wants the son to get better, he or she has to stand up and decide to stop the bad habit; the parent has to hold the son accountable for his actions (Singhe, 2008).
Hypochondria is another example of an emotional bad habit. A person that suffers from it needs adequate help in changing his or her bad habits of thought. This person has to acquire a new way of thinking about the illness and one’s own body. This will contribute to his or her establishing control over one’s emotions.
No matter what bad emotional habits one has, the first step he or she needs to take is to realize their existence and understand their nature. Though sometimes it is very difficult to break them, a person should realize that the sooner he or she stops making the bad emotional habits, the happier life he/she will live.
One more issue that the book touches upon is the Impostor Syndrom, or Impostor Phenomenon. It is also known as Fraud Syndrome. Though not officially recognized as a psychological disorder, this syndrome has become a subject for a number of investigations: ‘The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women’ by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes (1978), ‘The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear That Haunts Your Success’ by Pauline Clance (1985), ‘If I’m So Successful, Why Do I Feel Like a Fake: The Impostor Phenomenon’ by Joan C. Harvey and Cynthia Katz (1985 & 1987) and the like.
The essence of this syndrome is that individuals experiencing it are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Such people cannot objectively evaluate their roles in achieving this or that success. Regardless of the level of success they scored and the proofs of their competence that they have, they believe they do not deserve their success and always diminish their contribution to it. People experiencing the impostor syndrome find that this is luck, timing, or something else that has helped them to succeed in something. Often, they suppose that others are mistaken while thinking of them as of more intelligent and competent as they find themselves to be. The impostor syndrome is particularly common among women who have succeeded in their careers and it is typical with academics.
These women always think of themselves: ‘You are not good enough,’ ‘They are better than you are,’ ‘You cannot compete with them,’ ‘You don’t have what they do,’ ‘They do not know how you have deceived them’ and the like. In fact, these women may have succeeded more than their parents and moved into a higher-status social class, therefore, this difference between their origins and the role they have now increases their feelings of being impostors. ‘When Am I Going to Be Happy?’ helps the reader experiencing this syndrome to overcome it.
We consider this book to be a very valuable one in terms of addressing the issues of general psychology and psychology of women. Easily read, it is very insightful and helps the reader to recognize emotional bad habits, gives practical and simple suggestions as for how to get rid of them. The books of the type contribute to the readers’ knowledge of Psychology and inspire further understanding of their selves.
Clance, P. (1985). The impostor phenomenon: Overcoming the fear that haunts your success. Peachtree Pub Ltd.
Clance, P. R. & Imes, S. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic Intervention. Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice, 15(3), 53-63.
Ford, C. V. (1996). Lies!, Lies!!, Lies!!! The Psychology of Deceit. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Harvey, J. C., & Katz, C. (1985) If I’m so successful, why do I feel like a fake: The impostor phenomenon. Peachtree Pub Ltd.
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Russianoff, P. (1997) When Am I Going to Be Happy?: How to Break the Emotional Bad Habits That Make You Miserable. Bantam.
Singhe, A. (2008). Emotional bad habits. Web.