Can we really change…and have more happiness?

Can we really change…and have more happiness?

This week, I’m responding directly to a question sent in by Andy who wrote…”I’ve been reading and enjoying your (Body + Soul) columns for a few months now and I really want to believe in what you write; but I can’t help wondering and askingê¢__‘Ô_can we really change for the better?

Well Andy, it gives me great pleasure not just to devote this whole column to answering your question but more so, to answering in the affirmative. After two decades of studying the psychology of human behaviour and emotion, after reviewing literally thousands of research publications and reading hundreds of books, after working with more than one thousand individuals as a coach and therapist and, notably, having personally applied most of the strategies I advocate I can confidently assert, without any element of doubt, that we most certainly can change for the better.

Before going on I might qualify this by saying that it’s not always easy and some people will achieve greater change than others (especially in some areas or in certain life domains) but that being said, change is most definitely possible and if change is possible then living a better life is possible for all of us.

The first step to achieving positive change and more happiness is to understand why we do what we do. Maybe I’ll devote another full column to this one day but in short, we do what we do because we’re either pushed or pulled. We’re “pushed” by our beliefs and attitudes. That is, the way we think about things drives our behaviour. At the same time, we’re also partially “pulled” by what goes on around us including what psychologists formally call contingencies of reinforcement or the consequences we experience as a result of engaging in a particular behaviour. Accordingly, if we want to change we can either change the way we think about things or modify the context in which we operateê¢__‘Ô_or both!

There is actually another option which arises when one considers that we sometimes do what we do because that’s all we know how to do. In this case, we can make significant changes simply by learning new behaviours or skills or ways of responding to certain situations.

So in summary, there’s no doubt we can change. We can achieve change by making internal adjustments (primarily to the way we think about things), external adjustments (to the environment in which we live) or resource adjustments (to the repertoire of skills we have available).

But let me conclude by noting again, a point I made earlier in this column; some people will find change (especially in some areas) easier than others. So let me provide you with a metaphor – I believe I could take anyone down to the local swimming poor, introduce them to the local swimming coach and provided they then followed the coach’s instructions and trained hard every week for, say, 3 months then they would undoubtedly become a better swimmer.

This doesn’t mean, however, that they’d necessarily win an Olympic gold medal or be able to swim further or faster than Grant Hackett or Libby Trickett (nee Lenton) but it does mean they’d be better. And in the same way, we can all become better (whether that’s happier, more successful, fitter or more patient) as long as we find out what we need to do and as long as we diligently practice healthy habits.

At The Happiness Institute we’ve long said that achieving happiness requires nothing more than practicing a few simple habits, every day. This is what we do in our coaching and this week’s suggestion is to find out what habits you need to practice and get to it!

So once again, if you want to make a positive change in your life contact us at Dr. Timothy Sharp Associates ( for therapy or at The Happiness Institute ( for positive psychology coaching and courses.