Learning to use the tools of happiness

A new book gives five coping strategies to recognise and resist the triggers that cause anxiety and to break the cycle of the pursuit of perfection, writes Brian O'Connell

Cognitive behavioural therapist Enda Murphy first came upon the idea for his book, Five Steps to Happiness, when he began delivering training programmes to GPs. The idea was to teach GPs practical psychotherapeutic interventions that could be used within their practices to help patients who suffered from stress or anxiety. Since qualifying as a psychotherapist in 1999 (before that he worked as a community nurse), Murphy has taken a practical approach to treating mental health issues and uses cognitive behavioural therapy to help patients overcome their issues.

“The focus is not so much on where you’ve come from. The focus is on what is the problem today and how are we going to solve it,” Murphy explains.

While there are a large number of self-help books on the market, Murphy feels many of them tell you where you should be in life, but don’t often tell you how to get there. “A lot of these books give people tools, but they don’t train people how to use them,” Murphy says. “Over the years, I consistently found that persons who came to see me were making one or more of five basic errors in their thinking. My book identifies the five basic steps to better mental health.”

So, here is a condensed version of the five steps to happiness, as outlined in the book by Murphy.


1 Murphy calls this the "panic attack cycle". The cause of this cycle is the person getting anxious about the physical symptoms of anxiety and they believe the symptoms will either kill them, drive them mad, make them do something or allow people see them in their distressed state. The person gets panicky about the anxiety and doesn't realise that the anxiety is a protective mechanism that isn't dangerous. The solution is to stop attaching danger to things that are not dangerous.

2 This advice is around people who get panicky and don't have full-blown panic attacks and showing them how they can learn to change their behaviours. It's aimed at people who believe they must be in control of their own environment. The more certainty they strive for, the more uncertainty they will find, until all they can find is the uncertainty. In its extremes, Murphy argues this is the dynamic behind phobias and addictions, as well as anorexia. He gives basic steps to deal with this, such as getting used to frustrations.

3 This step is called "the social anxiety trap". This is about believing you can be defined by other people's opinion of you. Some people believe that another's opinion is accurate and precise and, as a result, a person can become more and more withdrawn. The way around this is to accept you are not perfect, you never were and never will be, but you are not any more imperfect than anyone else.

4 This advice looks at "the depression pathway'" and explains how anxiety is the flipside of the coin to depression.

The anxiety we associate with depression is called ego anxiety and Murphy argues it is one that everybody has. He says people typically start being anxious about what they think of themselves and their successes and failures.

This step gives them the tools to learn how to accept themselves through using practical cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

5 The last step in the book is about "abnormalising the norm". One example given is in relation to overcoming post-natal depression. Murphy says that often mothers who come to him believe they should feel and act a certain way in terms of being a mother. Some mothers try to over-compensate and be "perfect" he says and the more they strive for perfection, the more imperfection they find, until all they find is the imperfection. The solution simply is to stop trying to be perfect.

Five Steps to Happiness, by Enda Murphy, is published by Liberties Press.