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What's the secret to happiness? Your attitude

Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine try to answer the age-old question in their new book “It's All in Your Head.” Read an excerpt.
/ Source: Weekend Today

In “It's All in Your Head: Thinking Your Way to Happiness,” Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine present simple truths that motivate people of any age to find and accept lasting happiness, illustrated with the stories of real people and illuminated with the observations of spiritual leaders and great philosophers. Pollan visited “Weekend Today” to discuss his book. Take our happiness quiz and then check out an excerpt:

Happiness quiz
1. Do you look to material things to bring you happiness?2. Do you constantly compare your salary, clothes, car, house with others? 3. Do you dread the start of a new year or birthday? 4. Do you easily accept a compliment? 5. Do you delay dealing with something bad? 6. Do you try and think you can have it all? 7. Do you feel like your best days are behind you? 8. Do you base decisions on someone else's life or the life others think you should lead? 9. Do you feel paralyzed by fear? 10. Do you look for security, belonging and self-esteem from your job?

Answer yes to one or more of the questions above and you're in need of a happiness makeover.

Chapter One
It's All In Your Head
The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness. — Eric Hoffer

Are there times you feel you're missing the one or two crucial ingredients you need to be happy? Maybe it's a new, better-paying job with a boss who treats you with more respect or one that gives you more of a chance to make a difference. It could be you're searching for the right person to marry or are struggling to drop those extra twenty pounds you feel are holding you back.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: You've already got everything you need to be happy.

You don't need to land a new job or change your career. You don't need to find a mate or lose weight. You don't need to buy a car or move to the country. Being happy requires no change in your personal, work, or financial life. You can find happiness without going to a gym, church, or bank. You don't need anyone else's help to feel fulfilled. There's no need to talk to a plastic surgeon, stockbroker, or career counselor to feel better about yourself and your life.

Right now, you have within you all you need to find fulfillment and lead a happy, satisfying life. It doesn't matter how old you are or how much you earn. It doesn't matter if you're married or single, gay or straight. It doesn't matter where you live or how you look. It doesn't matter if you've just finished a marathon or you've been diagnosed with cancer. Happiness is within your grasp.

That's because the secrets to happiness are all in your head. Usually the phrase “it's all in your head” is intended as a condescending comment: that whatever it is you're feeling isn't real, that it's a figment of your imagination. But I mean it literally. The keys to a fulfilled, joyous life are all in your head because they're attitudes, not actions. They're ways you need to think, not steps you need to take. True happiness comes not from material, or external, factors, but from psychological, or internal, factors. Happiness is a mental, not a physical, state.

The good news is this means each and every one one of us has the potential to be happy. The bad news is your happiness is your own responsibility. You're the only one who can make yourself happy. No one and nothing else can do it for you. Not even me or this book.

What makes it even tougher is there are lots of forces out there preaching you're not responsible. Our consumption-based economy and perfection-obsessed mass culture offer countless keys to happiness. Slim down following the latest diet and bulk up using the newest fitness regime or piece of equipment and you'll be happy. If those don't work, have plastic surgery or take steroids. After all, the stars do it and they're happy. You'll feel good about yourself if you read the right books and, better yet, read them as part of the right reading group. You've got to see the hit play or have front-row seats to the hot concert tour to be happy. If your kids go the right preschool, then the right private school, and finally the right Ivy League university, you'll be happy. To feel good, you need to make a great salary ... but only by doing a job that offers spiritual rewards. Then use that money to buy the smallest MP3 player and the largest flat-screen television, both of which can be controlled by the remote on the dashboard of that car you need to have. If you're single, that car has to be a quirky import that fits your originality ... as well as everyone else's individuality. If you're married with kids, it needs to be an armored leviathan capable of transporting a junior high soccer team through Baghdad in safety. That will bring you joy. The right shoes, the right haircut, the right scent, will make you happy. And after buying all that, make sure you've invested all the rest in hedge funds so you can retire at fifty to become a social worker in a developing country.

It's not just the media and commerce that are telling up happiness will come from what we do. Clergy preach you've got to come back to the church to find God. Parents tell us we need to go to a certain college. Our friends who are married tell us we too need to get married. Our siblings who start families tell us we have to do the same, or else we'll never learn what really matters. Every day, in hundreds if not thousands of ways, we're told happiness is available out there, if we just buy or do something.

The Fruitless Pursuit of Happiness
Is it any wonder, then, that many of us have, consciously or not, turned our lives into quests for happiness? We may jump from job to job, maybe even spouse to spouse, looking for fulfillment. We might change locations and hairstyles. Perhaps we repeatedly buy the latest electronic toy and the newest diet book. We may obsess about building up our portfolios and biceps. But the quest always ends in failure. “The search for happiness,” wrote the author D. H. Lawrence, “always ends in the ghastly sense of the bottomless nothingness into which you will inevitably fall if you strain any further.” The philosopher Albert Camus put it in even blunter terms: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Yet we keep on searching, despite, and perhaps because of, our continuing unhappiness. We keep on banging our heads against the wall. We think happiness must be just around the corner, in our next office, at the party on Friday night, with the ...

Excerpted from “It's All in Your Head: Thinking Your Way to Happiness” by Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. Copyright © 2006, Stephen M. Pollan and Mark Levine. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.