Books — Happiness Is


Happiness Is

By Lisa Parsons

Happiness Is, but you ain’t

Doc finds link between mood and atomic physics

Happiness Is., by Shawn Christopher Shea, M.D., Health Communications, Inc., 2004, 340 pages.

You, my friend, are a happiness machine.

Dartmouth- and Keene-based psychiatrist Shawn Christopher Shea, author of two widely respected guidebooks for mental health practitioners, has written a laypersons’ guide to the pursuit of happiness, called Happiness Is. In it he claims that all of us are happiness-seeking machines. (Well, aren’t you?) Shea’s earlier books, The Practical Art of Suicide Assessment and Psychiatric Interviewing: The Art of Understanding, were published by textbook factories, but this new effort comes via Health Communications, Inc. (HCI), distributor of Hazelden Books and the Chicken Soup series.

Shea’s advice boils down to time-honored fundamentals — live in the moment; know thyself; slow down and trust that things will work out — and he occasionally refers to “somebody upstairs” and credits “the touch of God.”

Unfortunately, he dresses his lessons in excessive jargon and, worse, makes it sound like he’s discovered the keys to the universe via quantum physics and can explain them in a few pages.

You don’t need quantum physics to make the points Shea makes — and even if you did, you couldn’t use it (certainly not in so few paragraphs) because the leaps of logic are too big.

But Shea seems to want the air of legitimacy conferred by a nod to physics. As if we’d be initially reluctant to believe that, say, a person’s brain chemistry and interpersonal life affect each other — that biology affects psychology and vice versa — and as if such reluctance would break down in the face of data showing the physical interdependence of all the universe’s quarks and muons.

“The building blocks of all things in the universe are…fields of constantly shifting energy,” Shea says, and “every ‘thing’ is a matrix if viewed through a quantum lens,” and “a matrix is defined as a myriad of interlacing processes all of which are in constant flux.”

Whatever else that all means, it means to Dr. Shea that happiness is right around the corner.

Because (a) You don’t exist, so what have you got to worry about? You are not a thing; you are only energy that moves really fast. It’s just that when Nothing moves really fast it gives the impression of being Something.

And (b) Your happiness is a matrix of five processes that you can easily address: your biology; your psychological makeup; your interpersonal relationships; your relationship to your environment, and your spirituality.

I’m not even going to talk about (a).

As for (b), is it news that happiness depends on these things? And does this require the slightest grasp of quantum mechanics?

Shea is reassuring and upbeat as he draws on St. Francis, whirling dervishes and Alan Watts to make his points. His devotion to the cause is practically palpable. It’s just … he’s taken fine old wine and trapped it in a wackily eager, neon-blinking, self-promotional new bottle.

Where you and I would say, “take five minutes to think about what factors might be causing your problem,” Shea says “take five minutes out to take a quick matrix spin to see what might be causing the problem.”

When he correctly diagnoses and treats a woman’s panic attacks, he says, “if we had not solved this riddle through our knowledge of the Damaging Matrix Rule, the damage could have not only become more devastating but also more pervasive, spreading insidiously into other wings of the matrix.” What do patients do whose doctors don’t know the D. M. Rule?

Where he should say “I like to call it” or “Let’s give it a name,” Shea tends to say, “It has a name,” as if perhaps the ancient Greeks came up with it. Surely you’ve heard of “The Paradox of the Multiplicitous Knob,” for example? (“It is so important that it has a name.” Maybe this would sound merely humorous in a seminar, but in print it sounds serious.)

Then there’s the Maximized Matrix Principle. To read Shea, you’d think no one had ever thought of this before: take care of yourself on all fronts. If you’re mildly depressed, anxious or whatever, tend to your biology and your interpersonal relationships and your spiritual needs and your psychological stuff. (Wings. All of them, wings.)

Happiness is, yes. (Note the period in the book’s title.) And may someone upstairs bless Dr. Shea for trying to spread it. He even devotes the book’s ending to a call for compassion.

It’s just that happiness is hard to recognize draped in so many buzzwords.

— Lisa Parsons

2005 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH