Dr. William Glasser, father of modern-day theories of “Happiness” dies

Dr. William Glasser, the bestselling author of books on personal responsibility that earned him an international following, died Friday of pneumonia at his Los Angeles California home. He was 88. A renegade of his field, Dr. Glasser didn’t believe in dwelling on past behaviors or subconscious thoughts. He also ignored most of the common diagnoses of mental disorders common to his profession. He believed there was really only one issue that drove people into therapy. “They are unhappy,” he said. His 1965 book Reality Therapy focused on unhappiness stemming from an individual’s inability to fulfill three basic needs: 1. The need to love. 2. The need to be loved. 3. The need to feel meaningful to ourselves and to others. To realized these three points Glasser advised patients to pursue these points in a positive manner. He held that even schizophrenics and manic depressives could benefit from his approach. 

“Reality Therapy” sold about 1.5 million copies. In it, Glasser suggested revolutionary changes in the teaching process in schools like abolishing grades below A and B, the goal being to help students achieve higher competence. His William Glasser Institute was quickly endorsed 17 schools in the United States and three in Australia, Ireland and Slovenia. By 1971 600 schools and 8,900 teachers across the United States were using many of his ideas.

  Needless to say, his lack of classic educational discipline drew the indignation of traditionalists. Charles J. Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why America’s Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add (1995) wrote: Glasser’s Schools Without Failure was a veritable handbook for schools that would fail over the next two-and-a-half decades. Love him or hate him Dr. Gasser’s theory about happiness in life had a huge impact on the American consciousness. In a thumbnail sketch he suggests finding happiness via three points; 

  1. Realizing what to do
  2. Realizing how to do it
  3. Finding the strength to get it done.

  Glasser maintains that the first two are the easiest, but the real struggle is with the 3rd. It is often what leads to the negative addictions; the belief that we cannot find the strength to get it done so we take an easier road, give up, or find pleasure in something else to distract our minds. He also suggests that if instead of escaping through negative addictions, we learn how to harness the power of positive addictions we can get access to this strength in #3 that will allow us to create the life we so desire.

Glasser openly admitted that his own interest in psychology spawned from his own fundamentally shy nature. The son of a watch and clock repairman, he was born in Cleveland on May 11, 1925, and earned a degree in chemical engineering in 1945 from what is now Case Western Reserve University. After a brief, unhappy stint as an engineer, he returned to the university to study psychology. At the urging of a dean, he applied to medical school to become a psychiatrist and earned a medical degree from Case Western in 1953. He completed his medical residency under UCLA supervision at the Veterans Administration hospital in West Los Angeles, where he irritated his superiors with his anti-Freudian tendencies. “What they taught, in effect, was that you aren’t responsible for your miserable problems because you are the victim of factors and circumstances beyond your control,” Glasser said, in 1984. “I objected to that.… My thrust was that patients have to be worked with as if they have choices to make. My question is always, ‘What are you going to do about your life, beginning today?'”

  At the end of his residency, he said, “I was thrown off the staff.” Glaser’s approach was welcomed at his next job as staff psychiatrist at the Ventura School for Girls, a reform school in Ventura, where he taught troubled girls to take charge of their own behavior. Many of the case histories wound up in “Reality Therapy.” “He would hold them responsible for their behavior, not accept the fact that they could get away with blaming their past or society,” said Bob Wubbolding, a licensed psychologist in Cincinnati who was Glasser’s director of training for 23 years. “A lot of psychologists functioned on that basis but it wasn’t emphasized then, it wasn’t part of their formal training. That is his major contribution.” 

  Today most textbooks in graduate counseling programs include chapters on reality therapy, which Glasser later called control theory or choice theory, Wubbolding said. Glasser wrote more than 20 books, including “The Quality School: Managing Students without Coercion” (1990) and “Warning, Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health” (2003). “His therapy was so effective that people got well quick, so he couldn’t make any money on it,” his wife, Carleen Glasser, said of his private practice. “So he started to write these books.” She was his coauthor on three books, including “Getting Together and Staying Together: Solving the Mystery of Marriage” (2000). He also wrote several books with his first wife, Naomi Glasser, who died in 1992. In addition to his wife and son, he is survived by five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.