Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom by William Glasser
My best summary of Choice Theory is that unhappiness almost always results from an unsatisfactory relationship, and unsatisfactory relationships almost always involve one person trying to control the other. You can’t control another person, you can only give them information.* This book expands this to discuss how to use this knowledge to become a better spouse, parent, employer, teacher and friend, though he assumes you don’t try to control your friends.
I’ve read a lot of self-help type books, especially those dealing with psychology or philosophy, so when a friend recommended this as a life-changing book, I was skeptical. But, if you get one good recipe out of a cookbook, the cookbook is usually worth the price, so I got it anyway. I had just read another book on interpersonal realtions (Crucial Conversations) and surprisingly, these two books neither conflicted nor overlapped. For example, if the problem is that your child won’t do her chores, Crucial Conversations has you sitting down and explaining why doing the chores are important, until the child realizes she won’t get dinner until the dishes are done. Choice Theory says to stop nagging and work on spending quality time with your daughter so that she likes you enough to do the chores of her own accord. (Full disclosure: in my experience, neither one works. My kids are pretty lazy.)
William Glasser, judging by the cultural references, has been a counselor a long time. He has an impressive list of books, and apparently his career accomplishments also include speaking engagements, school visits, and extensive programs based around Choice Theory. The book got a bit self-aggrandizing at times, but considering how much experience he has, I’ll forgive a little of that.
His writing skills, however, could use a little help. He does not include charts when charts are called for, and at his most egregious, he invented a term “quality world”, meaning…well, it took me like seven chapters to figure out what the heck he meant by that. “Timmy doesn’t do well at school because school is not in his quality world”, “You should have several people in your quality world” “Frankly, my dear, you’re not in my quality world.” Finally, I figured out “In x’s quality world” meant “Important to x” (Why not just say “important?” Like, Tom mourns his ex wife because she’s important to him. Done.) But then, if he didn’t invent a buzzword, he couldn’t use it for marketing his school and community development plans, some of which sounded promising.
Best part about the book for me was when he had a hypothetical counselling session between himself and Francesca, the heroine from THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Francesca is disconsolate after her lover leaves, abandoning her to the dull life made even duller by his vanished spark of excitement. In this hypothetical situation, Glasser advises her to not dwell on the past, and about Robert (who isn’t coming back) but instead to think about concrete things she can do to improve her happiness right now . I liked this idea. I was a little leery of the idea that people choose to be depressed, but he sweetened it by saying that it was sometimes an effective defense mechanism to reduce anger or other things that might ruin your life. Depression as ineffective immune response is more tolerable than “you choose to make yourself unhappy” which sometimes sounds like “you choose to be short” or “you choose to have cancer.”
Worst part about the book was Glasser’s tendency to expand his theory too far. Talking about his idealistic utopia in which everyone has this theory makes me think of some unfortunate idealistic utopian concepts from last century. Also, when he says that arthritis and many other common afflictions are caused by unhappy relationships, I get skeptical. It’s a great theory, because probably everyone with an illness has an unhappy relationship (in as much as nearly everyone alive has an unhappy relationship with someone) but since there’s no proof, it makes me think of other self-help books, where people claim that subluxations cause obesity, or that eating meat causes diabetes. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
Still, it’s got some great ideas, so if you like self-help/psychology books, this is a good one to add to your shelf.
*I think you can control people. Pick up artists, cult leaders, and behavioralists will probably agree with me.
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