Happiness in Plain Sight

The Gratitude Connection: Happiness in Plain Sight

By Donald Officer


           Choose a life you love.

 Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga in The Courage to be Happy

Japanese authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga are attracted to arresting titles that later deliver a calming response after reading the books. The Courage to be Happy or its predecessor, The Courage to be Disliked, with its even more jarring title, fit the bill exactly. The authors appear to be their own translators and also to have a good knowledge of German. This makes total sense since the text is a rendering in dialogue of the core ideas of the Austrian Alfred Adler.

This, their second interpretation of Adler’s thinking offers his recipe for happiness plain and simple. The reasoning and the emotional commitment behind it are less obvious, more subtle in practice than the bald statement of the book’s title seems to promise. Adler’s ideas are not that difficult to understand (or misunderstand). However, accepting them and moving on to adopt an Adlerian worldview is not so easy. Who was Alfred Adler and why is he not better known today?

After a medically difficult childhood which included suffering from rickets preventing young Alfred from walking until two, followed by a bout of pneumonia at four. His experience with physical diversity made him determined to become a physician. For those who know Adler’s theories, this desire will not be surprising. Graduating from the University of Vienna with a medical degree, Adler began a career as an ophthalmologist before switching to general practice.

His great curiosity and drive to make a contribution to the future of medicine soon led him to psychiatry, a young if growing field. For innovation and breakthrough thinking, Vienna was the place to be. In 1902 Sigmund Freud asked him to join his weekly group which became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. Soon to become a member was the young Carl Jung. All three of these early giants of psychotherapy would in time diverge, creating very distinct schools. Freud was embittered by their departures though their differences made the ruptures all but certain.

Always more clinician than theorist, Adler set up centers throughout middle Europe to work with children and families in the most practical ways imaginable. His hands-on methods left little time for the kind of scholarship that Freud and later Jung put first. What Adler did write was more succinct, yet in many ways more powerful and further ahead of his time as we shall see. The founder of Individual Psychology was always active in the broader mental health community, but eventually his network of treatment centers was shut down in the turbulent thirties. When his daughter travelled to the Soviet Union hoping to make a difference there, she disappeared into Stalin’s gulag. Many years ago, but long after the events of the 1930’s, I met Adler’s son Kurt, himself a psychiatrist. Enthusiastic about his father’s continuing work and optimistic about a world still full of possibility, he still couldn’t hide his deep regrets for what had been lost.