Posts tagged “happiness

It’s OK, as long as I am not harming others. Right?



Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.   Bertrand Russell

This statement caused me to immediately pause and consider the extent to which it is true. Since choice theory is in my quality world, the statement was filtered through my concepts of choice theory. How about you? Is Russell’s view accurate?

Unlike most psychiatrists of his day, Glasser did see importance in moral behavior, although his definition of moral is significant. To him, moral behavior occurred when a person met his own needs without keeping someone else from meeting theirs. He frequently referred to the Golden Rule in the Bible as a good maxim by which to live.

If we stopped here, Glasser would probably support Russell’s statement about personal pleasure. However, Glasser didn’t stop with just his definition of moral. He went on to describe the difference between pleasure and happiness, at least as he came to define them.

He came to see happiness as a key human need and goal. He viewed the terms happiness, choice theory, and mental health, as synonyms. He felt that it could be said that “mental health is choice theory is happiness.” Happiness comes from being close and knowing how to stay close to the important people in our lives; it comes from engaging in activities that add strength to our lives; and recognizing our basic needs and our power to make choices, more and more we come closer to being in self-control. Happiness has much to do with our relationships with other people.

Glasser came to see pleasure as something people pursued to temporarily change a feeling. His concept of total behavior has feeling as one of the back tires on the total behavior car, a part of our behavior that we cannot directly control.

Total Behavior Car

The concept of total behavior reminds us that our mental health and happiness depends on our ability to choose to live in the realm of the front tires – that being our thinking and our acting. Our feelings can be very strong, though, even what “feels” like overwhelming. Many people attempt to address the feeling, rather than staying on the front tires. A desire to feel good, or at least to not feel bad, can lead to many behaviors. Some seemingly innocuous ways we attempt to feel good or numb our pain include eating, shopping, traveling, watching movies, and playing video games; less innocuous ways of feeling good include alcohol, various drugs, sex, including pornography, and gambling. The ways in which we attempt to feel good are in fact the ways in which we self-medicate. Self-medicating behaviors do not address the root of our unhappiness; they just attempt to change a feeling, even for just a little while. This self-medicating pursuit of pleasure leads to two things – 1) you need to up the dose of whatever your medication of choice is, and 2) addiction. Rather than coming into a place of greater personal strength, we arrive at feeling powerless in the presence of our “pleasure.” And rather than bringing us closer to others, especially the important people in our lives, our pursuit of pleasure erodes our personal connections.

This is such a dark picture, yet it captures a process in which we might find ourselves.

This is such a dark picture, yet it captures a process in which we might find ourselves.

This additional definition of pleasure vs. happiness adds an important element to how we might process Russell’s statement. Now, when we read . . .

Any pleasure that does no harm to other people is to be valued.

. . . we realize that pleasure that does no harm to others may still be harming me. And it brings up a really important question – Is it possible to be in the process of harming myself and not, ultimately, to be harming my relationship with the important people in my life?


The Glasser International Conference is coming up next week in Toronto, Canada, and I am looking forward to seeing all of you who  are a part of that. For me, it will be a bit of a homecoming, as I began my teaching career in 1978 in Oshawa, Ontario, just 1/2 hour from Toronto.

GREAT DREAM – Acronym for Happiness


A recent survey of 5,000 people asked them to identify the everyday habits that make them happier. Here are the 10 habits, along with the average rating, on a scale of 1-10, that indicate how often the participants performed each habit.

1. GIVING: do things for others – 7.41

2. RELATING: connect with people – 7.36

3. EXERCISING: take care of your body – 5.88

4. APPRECIATING: notice the world around you – 6.57

5. TRYING OUT: keep learning new things – 6.26

6. DIRECTION: have goals to look forward to – 6.08

7. RESILIENCE: find ways to bounce back – 6.33

8. EMOTION: take a positive approach – 6.74

9. ACCEPTANCE: be comfortable with who you are – 5.56

10. MEANING: be part of something bigger – 6.38

The first letter of each habit spells out GREAT DREAM, which sounds like a good thing, although choosing to engage in any of these habits has been scientifically proven to improve our happiness level. These habits aren’t just a dream, they work.

It is quickly pretty plain that choice theory is embedded throughout this list of habits. Each of them involves a choice, either in the course we set for ourselves as an individual or as a way we respond to setbacks and difficult circumstances.

Glasser felt that happiness is an essential indicator of mental health. In fact, he equated three terms as inextricably linked – choice theory, mental health, and happiness. When you talk about one of these, he felt you were basically talking about the other two at the same time as well.

He also felt it is important to differentiate between happiness and pleasure, with happiness involving something that adds strength to our lives and that often brings us closer to other people, while pleasure involves things that temporarily feel good, but that ultimately weakens us and that threatens or harms our relationships with others.

We all have been designed to desire true happiness, although we too often settle for pleasure instead. The GREAT DREAM list is a good reminder of the tangible decisions we can make that will help us experience real happiness, rather than being addicted to chasing short-term pleasure.


Classroom Application:
+ Define and discuss the idea of true happiness or real happiness.
+ Develop an age-appropriate survey, maybe similar to the GREAT DREAM list of activities, on which your students can indicate the things they do that brings them happiness.
+ Process the responses and discuss the results. (The responses can be processed as a part of Math class; the results can be discussed as a part of Health class, Social Studies, or even Bible class.)
+ As appropriate, have students consider the difference between happiness and pleasure.
+ Help students explore the role of choice in achieving personal happiness.


The Glasser biography has officially gone to the printer. Hopefully, an announcement will be forthcoming soon regarding how to order copies of the book.


Our next Choice Theory Study Group is this coming weekend – March 15.


For more info on the GREAT DREAM survey, go to the PSY BLOG website at –

8 Books on William Glasser’s Bookshelf (that are now on mine)

Used bookstore in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Used bookstore in San Luis Obispo, CA.

For almost a year there has been an old book on top of one of the stacks on my bedside table, and even though I haven’t read it, my love and belonging and power needs are met every time I see it.

Glasser and I talked about a lot of things as I wrote his biography. During our interviews he would frequently bring up what he happened to be reading at the moment. He read a lot. Sometimes he would talk about an article he read in the New Yorker; or about an editorial in the Los Angeles Times; or about a book he was reading. When we visited about his childhood he described how much he read even then.

As a child he especially liked a group of books known as The Young Trailers Series. He spoke fondly and respectfully of the Young Trailers author, Joseph Altsheler, and about how he could really write adventure stories, tales that required resourcefulness and bravery. He read these books so many times that he could not remember the exact number. I had never heard of them or the author, but became curious about them due entirely to Glasser’s enthusiasm. I did some checking, figuring that I would just go to or Amazon and pick up one or two of these books, and discovered instead that getting my hands on an Altsheler book was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. If I was willing to part with $200 I could have one mailed to my house. Otherwise I would need to begin searching the occasional used bookstores I was able to frequent.

Looking on my bookshelves now, I am reminded of the different books that Glasser alerted me to, and that I was able to find at used bookstores here and there. Books like Jesse Stuart’s, The Thread That Runs So True (1949), and Ernest Kurtz’s, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (1979). He loved anything that Anthony Trollope wrote, who he felt could really get inside a character and what he or she was thinking. I don’t have any of Trollope’s books yet, but I probably will someday add a few of his books to the Glasser section in my library. I go to a used bookstore in San Luis Obispo, California, at least twice a year and while browsing there a few years back I discovered an old copy of Glasser’s all-time favorite book, Raintree County (1947), by Ross Lockridge, Jr. “I’ve read that book at least seven times,” he shared with me, which is no small feat considering it runs 1,060 pages long. When I took it to the counter to buy I thought it might be kind of expensive, but it wasn’t. Didn’t they know it was William Glasser’s favorite book?


Not all of Glasser’s recommendations were of old books. For instance, he convinced me that I needed to go out and buy a book by Mark Haddon called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), an incredible book with an autistic savant as the hero of the story. He also convinced me on books like Mad in America (2002), by Robert Whitaker; America Fooled (2006), by Timothy Scott; and especially Beyond Prozac (2005), by Terry Lynch. For those years that Glasser and I worked together he seemed to be with me whenever I went book shopping, be it in a Barnes & Noble, a used bookstore, or online. My experience was that he had a good eye for reading material.


I had kind of given up on finding any of Altsheler’s books, although last year when I was in a used bookstore in Nevada City, California, and discovered they had a kid’s section, I decided to look more carefully. There could be a chance. And then, as I looked from book spine to book spine, there it was. There was The Forest Runners (1908), by Joseph Altsheler. I opened and closed my eyes to make sure I was seeing correctly. I looked inside and saw that it was the second book of eight in The Young Trailers Series. I wondered about its price as I approached the cash register. I was told it was $18 and that it would come to almost $20 with tax. I got the $20 out of my wallet so fast the bookstore owner must have been tempted to say, “Wait a minute, now I can see the price more clearly. It’s not an 18, that’s an 80. I meant to say $80.” But he didn’t and I left with a special treasure.


The Forest Runners has sat on my bedside table ever since. I haven’t read it and I don’t intend to soon, yet I feel good every time I see it. I feel a connection to Bill and remember his joy and excitement as he described things the book’s characters overcame. My oldest grandson is three and a half, so he’s not ready for swashbuckling adventure yet, but when he is I know of a book we can share together. (Oh, bother. How am I going to find the other seven books in the series?)


Interested in stories about Bill Glasser? Glad for choice theory tips on how to live a happier life? Appreciate ideas on how to bring choice theory into the classroom? Then why not pass it on and tell a friend or colleague about The Better Plan blog.


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Remember the new 2103 – At A Glance link at the upper left hand corner of the page when looking to catch up on topics from last year. Quick links to all the articles are chronologically listed.

Quitting Smoking and the Nuclear Strategy


The Happiness Project, a blog I follow, recently posted a letter from a gentleman who described his strategy to break the habit of smoking. Citing a number of habit breaking strategies in the post, the specific strategy described in the letter was categorized as “the nuclear strategy.”

I am curious what you think about this habit-breaking approach. Do you think this would be a good way to break a particularly difficult habit?

And to my fellow choice theorists, how does this strategy complement or contradict the principles of choice theory?

Here’s the letter –

I picked up smoking when I studied abroad in Vietnam. The father of my host family didn’t speak English, but he smoked, so he encouraged me to join him. Open to new experiences, I went from zero to a pack a day in one week.

That pack-a-day habit stuck with me for three years while I tried everything to quit smoking — set deadlines, cursed my lack of willpower, thought that switching to a tobacco pipe was somehow better. It was terrible.

Of the hundred ways I tried to quit, here’s what worked: I set a date in advance that held meaning for me (the one year anniversary of graduating college), I wrote out a long list of both the things I hated about smoking, and the things I loved about smoking (so I knew the tradeoffs), and then — what I consider the innovative part — I hand-wrote fifteen letters to friends and family members saying “If, after May 20, 2001, I ever smoke another cigarette, I will pay you $200.” I sent these letter particularly to friends who themselves were smokers.

When the date came, I gave away my remaining cigarettes, lighters and accessories. I scheduled new after-work activities to break up my routines for a couple of weeks. And I noticed a funny thing: my smoking friends, who had previously tried to lure me back to smoking in my earlier quitting attempts, were now constantly handing me cigarettes — then reminding me of the money I was going to pay them if I accepted the cigarette. “This cigarette will cost you $200,” my friends would say. The letters had turned my enablers into enforcers. Needless to say, when that one cigarette would cost me $3000, it was easier to refuse it.

And that was it. I still love smoking, and really wish I could smoke. But I went from a pack a day to zero, cold turkey on May 20, 2001 and haven’t smoked again.

The blog went on to explain that a nuclear option is when there’s some major drawback to breaking a habit. For some people, it pointed out, this really helps.

So what do you think? Is the nuclear option simply a gimmick? And if so, are gimmicks ever ok within the choice theory framework?




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7 Cardinal Rules for Life


I’ve appreciated the stuff that often is posted by the website at, like the 7 Cardinal Rules for Life that follow here. (What cardinals have to do with rules for life, I’m not sure.) Along with the Rules I share a choice theory response to each of them. (Of note: The Soul Shaper workshop dates for this summer have been set and are listed at the end of the blog.)

7 Cardinal Rules for Life

Rule #1 – Make peace with your past, so it doesn’t spoil your present. Your past does not define your future – your actions and beliefs do.

It would be hard to come up with a more choice theory statement than this one. I think the phrase “make peace with your past” is important. We’re not trying to run from the past, hide from it, cover it, or deny it. We come to desire our joy in the present and realize our need to see the past for whatever it is and, like it says, make peace with it. I like the statement’s emphasis on thinking and acting, too, which supports the idea of every behavior being a total behavior. It really is pretty amazing that we were created to have direct control over what we think and what we do.

Rule #2 – What others think of you is none of your business. It’s how much you value yourself and how important you think you are.

Choice theory emphasizes that the only person we can control is ourselves, but I like how Rule #2 is worded. It is such a debilitating condition to be worried about what others think of you. It is so freeing to let this particular worry go.

Rule #3 – Time heals almost everything, give time, time. Pain will be less hurting. Scars make us who we are; they explain our life and why we are the way we are. They challenge us and force us to be stronger.

I hesitate to write about #3. The topic of wounds, especially emotional and spiritual wounds, is a sacred space to me and deserves a special respect. That said, it is apparent to me that some people allow healing to take place and continue to want to make the best of life, while others seem to want to nurture the hurt and hold onto it.

Rule #4 – No one is the reason for your own happiness, except you yourself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside.

The world of choice theory is a place of responsibility. A key, though, is that responsibility is something that dawns on a person, rather than it being a message that one person enforces on another. Responsibility functions best when it is like the sun coming up in a person’s life, providing light to see the world in a new light.

Rule #5 – Don’t compare your life with others. You have no idea what their journey is all about. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back as fast as we could.

Comparing our life to that of others traps us in thinking that our happiness depends on our circumstances being different. Or worse, that our happiness depends on our circumstances being better than someone else’s. Choice theory keeps bringing us back to our happiness coming from within, not from without.

Rule #6 – Stop thinking too much. It’s alright not to know the answers. Sometimes there is no answer, not going to be any answer, never has been an answer. That’s the answer! Just accept it, move on, NEXT!

I’ll have to think about this one.

Rule #7 – Smile, you don’t own all the problems in the world. A smile can brighten the darkest day and make life more beautiful. It is a potential curve to turn a life around and set everything straight.

A smile is a choice. Yes, sometimes we laugh as a reflex, but sometimes we just need to choose to smile. And in making that choice, in a small way, the day does get just a little bit better.


Which of the Life Hack Rules do you relate to? Did any of them get you thinking about choice theory ideas? Let me know.

Reminder – Middle School and High School teachers can share the Rules with students and have them respond to them and evaluate them. They can be a great springboard for talking about choice and responsibility. Tie a writing assignment to them. Discuss them in a life skills class.


Important Dates

The Soul Shaper workshop dates for this coming summer at PUC have been set.

Soul Shapers 1 –  June 16-19

Soul Shapers 2 –  June 23-26

If you have questions about the workshops get in touch with me at

4 Reasons to Choose Misery


People spend billions of dollars on creams, and even surgeries, to look younger from the outside-in, yet maybe our aging has more to do with what’s happening from the inside-out. For instance, a recent study indicates that people who are depressed appear, at a molecular level, to be biologically older. An article in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry*, which reported on a study of over 2,000 subjects, concluded that depression can make us older by speeding up the aging process within our cells. So much for creams and scalpels.

There may actually be good news in this molecular view! Glasser believed that we choose our misery. Could it be that in the process of negotiating life’s twists and turns, and that as we choose to be happy or choose to be miserable, we are actually choosing our age? This is not the stuff of science fiction movies; this is a very real possibility.

Glasser described in Control Theory* (1985) that it can make sense to choose misery. In fact, he listed four reasons for people making such a choice.

1. It keeps angering under control

Rather than expressing our anger outward, and maybe even threatening and hurting other people, we turn it inward. We don’t know how to deal with our anger in the public arena, so we direct it to a private location.

2. It gets others to help us

When we show up as miserable or depressed it can serve as a cry for help, which can be especially appealing for men, who often don’t like to just come out and ask for help.


3. It excuses our unwillingness to do something more effective

The more miserable or depressed we become, the more helpless we become, too. We convey that we are not capable of doing much when we are overcome with misery.

4. It helps us regain control

When we feel out of control because of how someone else is treating us or because of the difficulty of a circumstance, choosing to be miserable or to depress can very much increase our sense of control. No one can challenge us when we are helpless.

Any of these behaviors can make sense at the moment. We are desperate for a behavior that will help us feel better and we rummage around in our behavior system for something that will give us even a smidgeon of control. Being miserable doesn’t feel that great, but it feels better than the alternative, whatever we perceive the alternative to be. Somehow, misery is need-satisfying.

Of course, it is not usually a good idea to tell a person who is in the midst of being depressed or miserable that he/she is choosing it. A miserable person can become quite defensive of their misery. But there will come a time, when things are better or when the pressure is off a bit, when he/she will be more open to considering their role in the misery process.

And what a special moment it is when you first realize that misery isn’t something that just happens to you. An awareness begins to dawn in your thinking, an empowering awareness that maybe, just maybe, you can literally choose your state of mind. As you grow in your understanding of choice theory, it’s like you become immunized against misery and even depression. Yes, it can be scary to realize how much power and responsibility you have for your own mental health, but the trade from victim to empowerment is well worth it.

Without this kind of immunization our misery can sap us of the life force within us and quite literally age us way too quickly. I say go for the choice theory immunization. It keeps you young and happy all at the same time.

* The article about depression and aging can be found at

* Control Theory has been re-printed as Take Charge of Your Life: How To Get What You Need with Choice Theory Psychology. It is available in paperback and electronically through Amazon and other booksellers.



My thoughts have been directed toward Beirut, the schools there that I had the privilege to visit recently, and to the incredible people who work and teach in those schools. My heart goes out to them as tension and violence once again impact the region. I am praying that the Spirit will give you courage, comfort, and protection. I am praying that your schools will continue to thrive!



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Next Choice Theory Study Group

December 7

The Fisherman and the Monkey

The restaurant beside the small harbor.

The restaurant beside the small harbor.

During my last day in Lebanon, I was reminded about just how powerful the basic need for freedom can be in a person’s life. I had visited a very unique and important school in Tyre (yes, the Tyre talked about in the Bible) and afterward was taken to a seaside restaurant where I was able to talk more with the school’s principal about the history of the school and its future mission. The story of the school must be told, as it is an amazing tale of faith and courage, but for now I will share something (else) I observed as I sat by the water’s edge.

Mending nets.

Mending nets.

There was a sea wall that protected a marina area that was home to many small fishing boats. Nets were piled on the sterns of many of the boats, or piled along the docks just behind the boats. This was a working marina, if you will. I noticed one man sitting in his boat working on one of his nets. He had white hair pulled back tightly into a short ponytail and was shirtless, revealing his weathered, overly tanned skin. It struck me as I watched him concentrating on a portion of fishing net on his lap how that might have been Peter’s exact position when Jesus walked up and asked Peter to join him. (When the school principal saw me looking at the white-haired fisherman he told me about how this fisherman was so distinctive that when documentaries are made about Tyre, as National Geographic did, the film makers always want scenes that include this man.)

A literal monkey on his back.

A literal monkey on his back.

A few moments later a younger man (younger than 35) walked onto another boat near where I was sitting. He was in jeans and an old t-shirt, and he had a little monkey on his back. Literally. This got my attention and I continued to watch this interesting duo. The man struggled to get the monkey off his back, literally, but eventually did. The monkey was on a leash and the man attached the leash to one of the metal uprights supporting a small roof for the boat. The monkey settled in, at times climbing the upright for a better view, at times just sitting on the deck and watching his companion work on nets. When the principal saw that I was focused on this younger fisherman and the monkey he told me something that expanded my understanding of the basic need that people have for freedom.

Another day at the office for the monkey.

Another day at the office for the monkey.

The young fisherman, the principal explained, had a good job as a pilot of a large boat or yacht for some rich person in the area, but that he didn’t like being under someone’s supervision or direction, and that he preferred the life of a simple fisherman, not knowing how much his income would be, but being in total control of his actions and destiny. Instead of good-sized paycheck, and having to answer to someone else, he chose a smaller, sporadic paycheck, and having total say over the details of his life. Once, the principal continued, the young fisherman caught a huge lobster, easily worth $50 if he sold it. “But he didn’t sell it,” the principal said with some passion in his voice. “When I asked him what he did with the lobster if he didn’t sell it, he told me, I ate it!

Somewhere Frank Sinatra is singing "I Did It My Way."

Somewhere Frank Sinatra is singing “I Did It My Way.”

This story reminds us of the power of the basic needs, in this case the need for freedom. He acted on his need for autonomy, which strikes some of us as gutsy. He could have stayed with the good paying job, which provided security, but for him the trade-off wasn’t worth it. Apparently, he has a lower survival need. The need for freedom doesn’t force a person to give up good paying jobs. Sometimes people work in what for them is a less than ideal situation because it pays them enough money to satisfy their need for freedom in other ways besides their jobs – maybe they travel or have expensive hobbies. If we have a high need for freedom, though, and don’t satisfy that need we will most likely be unhappy. The basic needs don’t just go away. We were born with them and they are with us for life.

The young fisherman struggled to get the monkey off his back when he wanted to start working on his nets. That moment may have captured what the fisherman felt as he wrestled with what to do with his life. Maybe his good paying job felt like a monkey on his back, too. Monkeys can be like that for all of us.


 The Choice Theory Study Group is meeting this coming Sabbath, November 2, at 2:00 pm in room 212 of the Education building at Pacific Union College in Angwin, California.

What to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home



Reminder and Invitation
For those of you within driving distance of the Napa Valley, remember you are invited to our Choice Theory Study Group on Sabbath afternoon, September 21, from 2:00-4:00 PM at Foothills Elementary School, located just up the hill from St. Helena. The address is 711 Sunnyside Road, St. Helena, 94574. It is very easy to get to. Head north on the Silverado Trail from Napa; turn right on Deer Park Road (the blinking red light); turn right at Sunnyside Road; the school is at the corner of Deer Park Road and Sunnyside.


It would be great if by 18 every young person could do the following –

So began an article I re-discovered today while going through some old files. I am getting ready to teach a classroom management class (classes begin on Monday) and found an article I filed 12 years ago titled What to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home. It included a list of 12 different categories with specific skills under each one.

Domestic Skills
Cook a traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Wash and iron clothes.
Replace a button.
Bake bread.


Physical Skills
Throw and catch balls.
Swim half a mile and tread water for half an hour.

Handyman Skills
Hang a picture straight.
Paint neatly and be able to clean up afterwards.
Know which tools perform which functions.

Changing Tire_2

Outdoor Skills
Hike with friends all day.
Bait a hook.
Plan and manage a weekend camping trip.

Practical Skills
Type with both hands.
Drive a car.
Change a flat tire.

You get the idea. There were other skills, too, things like –
Speaking before a group.
Knowing how to play a musical instrument.
Reading a map.
Knowing basic first aid.


The short article of bulleted lists drew me in and I soon was evaluating the skills the author suggested, wondering to myself if these lists really did represent the necessary survival skills for life. One category, I noticed, that was missing was a category for Psychological Skills. What do you think? Of all the categories, wouldn’t Psychological Skills be the most important one of all? Let’s add this category and answer the following question –

What Psychological Skills Would You Want to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home?

I really want to hear from you on this one. Let’s see what kind of skills we can come up with.


Some news on the Glasser biography!! It looks like it will be published in November. Stay tuned.

The World According to Wilson

Lessons on mental health from Wilson, one of the stars of the movie, Castaway. The William Glasser Institute recently shared this article with members and I thought many of you would find it interesting, thought provoking, and maybe even helpful. Check it out.



by Mike Rice

So much of the world appears to be caught up in the belief that any behavior that is not considered usual or normal is the result of a mental illness . . . that there is some sort of chemical imbalance in some people’s brains. I am often challenged in my group sessions about the behavior of those who have been labeled schizophrenics, when I state that most of what we are calling mental illness is no more than the behavior of unhappy people. Even those who have received this diagnosis have challenged me on this statement. They seem to want to wear their badge of mental illness to let others know they are helpless and that there is nothing they can do to improve their happiness. I often hear, “Normal people don’t talk to themselves or see things that aren’t there. So there HAS to be something wrong with their brain.”

Those who have received mental illness diagnoses have been told that they have some abnormality within their brain and that there is nothing they can do about it . . . that they will have to learn to live with it for the rest of their lives while taking medications that drug their brains to cause them to not hear voices and stop seeing invisible people. These drugs also stop the person from functioning normally by shutting down all of their emotions; having a flat affect; losing interest in the things that they used to enjoy, and losing their ability to be creative. Ironically, many of these medications prevent the person from overcoming their unhappiness or to discover other creative ways to deal with their unhappiness.

It is their creative ability that led them to choose the behaviors they discovered to deal with their unhappiness and frustration in the first place.

I saw the movie, “Cast Away,” starring Tom Hanks, when it first came out in 2000. Since then, I recently saw it again on my local cable network and was able to make the connection of how some behaviors would be considered mental illness by some in certain circumstances, but not mental illness in other circumstances. Allow me to explain:

In the movie, after being marooned on a small island in the South Pacific, Chuck (Tom Hanks) found himself without his basic genetic needs. He had to be creative to survive and began to improvise ways to find shelter, food, thirst and dehydration quenchers. He soon found himself without the power to do much about his situation, but maintained enough power from within to continue to survive. Even when he considered suicide, his tested method failed and renewed his internal power for survival.


His freedom was now very limited. He had only a small portion of the island in which he could navigate as most of it was mountainous and surrounded by pounding waves. He was held in solitary confinement. He certainly was not having any fun. All of his basic needs for happiness were not being met to the degree that he wanted.

The first thing he did when he reached the island after his plane crash was to yell out to connect to someone . . . anyone. Even the sound of dropping coconuts led him to think that someone might be near and he would yell out towards the area where he heard the sounds. He was missing the genetic need for connecting with others and belonging to the social world he had recently lost. He still had the image of Love in his Quality World from his deeply satisfying relationship with his girlfriend, Kelly (Helen Hunt), back in Memphis.

From what I have described so far, and for you who have seen the movie, you would not think any of Chuck’s behaviors were the result of a mental illness. In fact, you would probably think that it was his creativity and improvisation that was able to allow him the ability to meet his needs of survival: shelter, food, and drink.

But it wasn’t long after his initial awareness that he was, indeed, stranded in the middle of nowhere and the odds of being rescued were minimal. He still had the strong genetic need for love and belonging and after injuring his hand while attempting to make fire, his frustration led to him choosing to throw objects that had washed up from the plane crash, kick the sand, swear, and destroy whatever was near him. His bloody hand from the injury he incurred left a palm print on a soccer ball that had been part of the cargo in the plane. After he had calmed down and successfully created a fire, he began staring at the soccer ball and saw the potential for something in the bloody hand print . . . a human face. Since no one was around to offer a need-satisfying relationship in the form of connecting with others, he would create his own person to meet this need.

He made the air hole the nose and erased some of the blood to make the eyes and mouth. The company who made the soccer ball was Wilson and their name was boldly printed on the ball. This became Chuck’s compensation for connecting with someone whom he named, “Wilson.” So far, you may be saying to yourself, “So . . . . ? What’s your point?”

Chuck then began talking to Wilson and even answering on Wilson’s behalf to satisfy his need for love and belonging and connecting. And I would be willing to wager that you would still be thinking, “Well, sure. There’s nothing wrong with that. He did it to keep his sanity . . . to keep himself from going crazy on a deserted island.”

AHA! If he did that back in Memphis where he lived, would you still say his behavior was an acceptable way to behave? One might be inclined to get as far away from him as possible because, “who knows what a crazy person who talks to himself or to inanimate objects might do?” One might also believe he is seriously mentally ill and should be placed on brain meds and is in dire need of a psychiatrist.

In an isolating experience, you are more likely to accept Chuck’s unusual or unnatural behavior as typical, rational, and understandable. But if not deserted on a lonely island, the same behaviors are seen as symptoms of mental illness and chemical imbalances. The unusual behavior one may create and perform serves the purpose of easing their unhappiness and frustration, at the time . . . just like Chuck on the island. If he didn’t have Wilson to talk to, and imagine that Wilson was talking to him, he would have felt much more unhappy and frustrated than if he hadn’t created Wilson.

The person who sees things, hears things, and talks to people who are not present, or to inanimate objects, is no different than Chuck. While they are not physically on a deserted island, they are in a deserted world based upon their choice to isolate or detach from others because of unsatisfying relationships with the important people in their life. They have detached from others and can be alone while around others. Their creativity to deal with their frustration and unhappiness is no different than Chuck’s creativity in producing and talking to Wilson, a soccer ball.

The only difference is the circumstances. You could see Chuck’s dilemma and rationalize Chuck’s behavior because you could relate to being in his situation. And since you could relate, you deem it normal, acceptable, and not a mental illness at all. You were living in his world on the screen and silently thinking, “I’d probably do the same thing.”

If Chuck behaved in this manner back in Memphis, you would not see the situation he would be experiencing in his world. His unsatisfying situation and internal frustration would be very real to him, but invisible to you. And since you have most of your needs met, on a somewhat regular basis, in a world where they are more easily attainable than a desert island, you might be inclined to think and believe his behavior is a mental illness.

When Chuck was rescued and came back home, he didn’t talk to things or people who weren’t there anymore. First of all, Wilson was lost at sea before he was rescued. But when Chuck got home, he was back in a world with people with whom he could connect. And it didn’t take brain meds to get him to stop talking to imaginary things or hearing imaginary voices. He only had to connect with others and those who are important to him. After five years of living in isolation, his rescue not only saved his life, it restored most of his basic genetic needs for happiness: Survival, Love and Belonging, Freedom, Power, and Fun. The love of his life had given up hope for his return and had married someone else.  There would obviously be some emotional pain from that loss.  But even that didn’t cause Chuck to return to his island-surviving behaviors.

Would you say a child who has an imaginary playmate is mentally ill? Or would you say they are being really creative? When you dream at night . . . are some of your dreams really “out there”? Does that mean that you are crazy when you are dreaming or is your mind simply being creative? If your brain can do that when you are asleep, it is also capable of doing it when you are awake?

In our world, it appears it is much easier to convince others that a person is mentally ill than to convince them that they are sane and only frustrated and unhappy.

Learn more about The Glasser Institute at

Contact The Glasser Institute at


I’m headed to southern Oregon next week to conduct a Soul Shaper workshop at Milo Academy. Looking forward to it!

California Senate Commends William Glasser

William Glasser and Brad Smith

William Glasser and Brad Smith, 2008

An amazing event took place recently within the walls of the California Institution for Women in Chino, California. Amazing because a graduation was held for the women within the prison who had completed the Choice Theory Connection Program. Due to the efforts of staff (especially Brad Smith) and students at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and the efforts of staff (especially Les Johnson) within the prison, inmates were taught choice theory and the ways in which people can manage their thinking and behavior. The graduation became even more special when, as part of the ceremony, Dr. Glasser was recognized by the California Senate for his contributions to the fields of psychology, social services, and education, and to the people of the state of California. He began his career in 1956 as the psychiatrist for the Ventura School for Girls, basically a prison for young women, so it is fitting that at the close of his career he was once again working with women within the prison system.

William Glasser, shortly after graduating from medical school, about to begin his psychiatric residency.

William Glasser, shortly after graduating from medical school, about to begin his psychiatric residency.

In 2010, I had the privilege of visiting the California Institution for Women in Chino and saw and heard firsthand the results of the Choice Theory Connection Program. It was a profound experience for me as I listened to women, some who had received life sentences for murder, describe how, even though they were in prison, they felt free for the first time in their lives. Several of them mentioned how different their lives would have been had they learned choice theory sooner.

These women declared how needed choice theory was in schools, especially inner city schools. They encouraged us to share the concepts of choice theory with students of all ages. I know that as teachers and principals we want to do just that. The women wanted to prevent young people from ending up behind bars and schools can be a large part of that prevention.

I am glad Bill is being recognized for his contributions. Being his biographer, I would have worded the commendation a bit differently, but the important thing is that people in leadership took a moment and reflected on what he has done for people and organizations across the state and beyond.


By the Honorable Carol Liu, 25th Senatorial District; and the Honorable Loni Hancock, 9th Senatorial District; Relative to Commending:

William Glasser M.D.

WHEREAS, Dr. William Glasser, a distinguished Los Angeles resident and highly esteemed member of the medical profession, has brought great credit and distinction to himself through his professional and public achievements, and in recognition thereof, it is appropriate to highlight his many accomplishments and extend to him the special honors and highest commendations of the people of California; and

WHEREAS, a world-renowned psychiatrist who employs a nontraditional approach, Dr. William Glasser has been recognized since 1989 as a member of the distinguished faculty of pioneers in the psychological professions by the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference of the Milton Erickson Foundation; and

William Glasser, presenting at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, 2005

William Glasser, presenting at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, 2005

WHEREAS, in his early years as a psychiatrist, Dr. Glasser obtained experience at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, and in 1967, he founded The Institute for Reality Therapy, which was renamed The Institute for Control Theory, Reality Therapy and Quality Management in1994, and The William Glasser Institute in1996; today, the institute, which is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, has branches throughout the world; and

WHEREAS, the recipient of numerous honors and awards, Dr. Glasser was presented the American Counseling Association’s 2004 Legend in Counseling Award for his development of reality therapy and, in 2005, was awarded the prestigious Master Therapist designation by the American Psychotherapy Association, and over the course of his stellar career, he has shared his expertise as the author and co-author of numerous chapters and books, including Take Charge of Your Life, Choice Theory, and Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage; and

WHEREAS, intelligent and articulate, aware and involved, Dr. William Glasser is a fine example of a public-spirited citizen willing to assume the responsibilities of leadership, and through his remarkable personal and professional achievements, he has become a legendary figure who is admired by people throughout the State of California and beyond; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED BY SENATORS CAROL LIU AND LONI HANCOCK, that they recognize and thank Dr. William Glasser for a lifetime of achievements and meritorious service to humanity, and convey sincere best wishes that his indomitable efforts will continue in the years ahead.

Member Resolution No.643- May 11, 2013


In some ways, Glasser’s legacy is secure. He developed Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, and along the way helped many, many people to function better in their lives. He especially helped teachers and students to understand the process of learning and thriving within a classroom. His books, 24 of them, and the many articles that he authored would seem to further establish the legacy. A book on a shelf, though, is not the legacy Glasser worked for throughout his career.  The legacy he sought was improved lives, better thinking and behavior, better mental health. Each of us can have a part to play in that legacy, beginning with ourselves, and then extending to those with live with at home or work with at school or a host of other businesses. That is the legacy Glasser would be most happy about.


TEACHERS – Will you be teaching your students about choice theory this coming school year? Could you take a moment and send me a brief description of how you go about it? A lesson plan would be awesome, but even a short paragraph would be wonderful, too.

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