Choosing Happiness

Happiness is largely determined by life events, often far outside locus of control, and when faced with adversities happiness can suffer. But happiness itself needs to prevail and, as much as can be controlled by you, must be a choice.

It’s true that a career in law enforcement changes a person. You see things that shake, and shape, your understanding of humanity. You experience things most never will, nor could tolerate if they did. You hold a clear and unwavering sense of justice, of right and wrong, and try to apply it in a morally ambiguous world where political – rather than ethical – considerations shape the law and how it’s applied. And devotion to your professional self often comes at the expense of the personal. All these things act on a cop and can influence professional and personal happiness, but still, the ultimate decision to be happy falls upon you.      

Positive psychology asserts individuals can influence their thoughts and beliefs and improve their own happiness. Psychologist Martin Seligman, a highly respected and leading teacher and practitioner of this model has come up with the acronym PERMA that summarizes many of positive psychology's principles. PERMA asserts people are generally happiest when they have Pleasure, Engagement (being wrapped up in challenging but satisfying activities), Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishments.

If you are happy with your life, like where you are and are excited about where you are going, look deeper and consider why that is so. What is it about your life that makes you happy?

If you are unhappy right now – and not because of a specific circumstance or event, but because of chronic sadness, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, or some general or unspecified malaise – also look deeper and consider why that is so. What is it about your life that makes you unhappy?

We know happiness is vitally important for everyone’s well-being – and that goes for cops, too - but that it’s elusive. Althea knows this from what she hears in her office. I know from being around a lot of fellow officers. Together we know from what we hear in response to our writing and training. We also know that it need not be so elusive, that people can choose happiness. We know many people, including in law enforcement, who successfully do this. We think this is an important topic and we’re going to give it greater attention next month. We hope you do too, and will join us.


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About The Authors:

Althea Olson, LCSW has been in private practice in the Chicago suburbs since 1996. She has a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University providing individual, couple, & group therapy to adolescents, adults, and geriatrics. Althea is also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management & is a certified divorce mediator.

Mike Wasilewski, MSW has been with a large suburban Chicago department since 1996. He holds a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University and has served on his department’s Crisis Intervention & Domestic Violence teams. Mike is an adjunct instructor at Northwestern College.

Mike & Althea have been married since 1994 and have been featured columnists for Officer.Com since 2007. Their articles are extremely popular and they now provide the same training and information in person throughout the United States. This dynamic team was recently featured at the at the 2010 & 2011 ILEETA Conference & Exposition.

Out of their success has come the formation of More Than A Cop where the focus is providing consultation and trainings on Survival Skills Beyond The Street.

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