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Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy

Too many pop psychology books today pretend that they have all of the answers, or try and wow you with their insights by tying together esoteric small studies done on college students and suggest such findings can have meaningful and significant impact for virtually anyone, anywhere.

Richard O’Connor’s newest book, Happy at Last, is a refreshing change from these kinds of books. In this new effort, O’Connor methodically lays out the troubles with our current pursuit of happiness in life (and why so many of us go down the wrong roads, pursuing the wrong things), and how to actually go about changing your life to genuinely pursue happiness.

A thoughtful book, written in O’Connor’s easygoing style, Happy at Last brings together ideas and methods from dozens of research studies, other self-help books, and O’Connor’s experience as a practicing psychotherapist. It suggests step-by-step strategies to understanding what’s wrong (and what’s right) with your life, and how to reduce misery while promoting happiness and satisfaction.

The book is logically arranged into eleven chapters and includes a helpful reading list in an appendix. The first four chapters introduce the concept of happiness (what it is and what it’s not), and why it’s so difficult to be happy in today’s society. (Sometimes O’Connor uses these chapters to preach a bit, but it’s hard not to when you’re in his shoes.) Chapter 5 is devoted to mindfulness, a core of O’Connor’s approach to finding happiness in our lives. The next three chapters focus on more specific strategies for increasing happiness through reducing misery (that can be reduced in your life, as not all of it is within your control), learning how to feel more joy and how to feel greater satisfaction. The book ends with a chapter on how to cope with unhappiness (since no life is going to be completely happy all of the time), a chapter describing the need for real meaning in our lives, and a chapter that nicely reviews and ties together all of the concepts the book discusses.

The key to understanding this book is in the subtitle — it is a book focused on thinking and doing solutions. And while he has a whole chapter on mindfulness and meditation, most of the book focuses on not only explaining why we are the way we are, but having you work through in-book exercises to change the unhelpful things in your life. Because it is only through changing our behavior and thinking that we can change our feelings and emotions. So if you’re not ready to actually do the exercises and practice change in your life, this book may not be right for you.

If O’Connor’s writing has a fault, it’s that he too often falls back upon old truisms and some advice you’ve probably heard before — simple things like, “Get more exercise,” and “Have more sex,” and “Learn more willpower.” Yes, indeed, these are all good things to do, but the challenge isn’t not knowing what we should do more of, but getting past all of our old hangups, arguments, and bad self-talk and actually doing those things is usually more than half the battle. Sometimes O’Connor provides in-depth discussion and guides to helping you with these things (like his discussion about self-control and willpower), but sometimes he glosses over the “how” and just relies on the philosophy of “just do it.” I also sometimes lost O’Connor’s train of thought as he is constantly pulling findings from various other authors and researchers to emphasize or make a point. Sometimes I was left scratching my head, wondering what the tangent had to do with the chapter’s topic.

If you’re looking for the book that goes beyond the generalized insights and random observations becoming increasingly common in pop psychology that offer no guidance on how any of that can actually help you in your everyday life, Happy at Last provides such down-to-earth guidance. While the insights aren’t portrayed in the “gee whiz” style of Malcolm Gladwell (which may be a positive in your eyes), they are more grounded in the direct experience O’Connor has as a successful psychotherapist, backed up with appropriate citations to relevant research.

Overall, if this is the style of the “new” self-help books, I’m glad to have read it… And I think you will too if you have any interest in changing your life to help find a new focus on achieving happiness.

320 pages.

Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy

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John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder & CEO of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues -- as well as the intersection of technology and human behavior -- since 1992. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member and treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine. He writes regularly and extensively on mental health concerns, the intersection of technology and psychology, and advocating for greater acceptance of the importance and value of mental health in today's society. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2016). Happy at Last: The Thinking Person's Guide to Finding Joy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 May 2016
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 May 2016
Published on Psych All rights reserved.