Rationality and the Pursuit of Happiness

The Legacy of Albert Ellis


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  • ISBN: 978-0470683118
  • My Rating: 6/10

Rationality and the Pursuit of Happiness is about the American psychologist Albert Ellis and his rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT).

I think Rationality and the Pursuit of Happiness is a good overview of Albert Ellis' work and ideas, supported by transcripts of his therapy sessions. And it provides a useful framework for problem-solving and self-improvement. On the other hand I didn't like the writing style of the author, and there is too much repetition.

My notes


Ellis says that humans have an innate tendency to greater or lesser extents to take their desires, preferences, and wishes for love, success, comfort, and for happiness and to formalize them into absolutistic musts, shoulds, oughts, needs, and commands (he refers to this tendency as musterbation).

Without doubt, Ellis identifies being committed to creative and absorbing activities as the number one happiness-producing behavior. Ellis debunks a prevailing notion of millions of people: "The idea that you can achieve maximum human happiness by inertia and inaction or by passivity and uncommittedly 'enjoying yourself'". Instead, he advocates that people discover, through thinking, experimenting, and risk-taking what they personally want to do (and want not to do) with the one life they have and how to do (and not to do) exactly that.

Ellis also says that a key to happiness is the ability to solve problems, largely by thinking flexibly and scientifically.

Another key to happiness is being able to manage your emotions as quickly and painlessly as possible when confronted with the muddles and puddles of life.

Albert Ellis and the Pursuit of Happiness

When employed in counseling and therapy, the approach is called rational emotive behavior therapy. It was created by Albert Ellis as a new way of helping people who experience significant emotional distress and interpersonal problems. As a guide for people with and without emotional difficulties, who seek greater happiness and fulfillment, the approach is called rational living [...].

The new, rational approach to modern-day living [...] involved Albert Ellis teaching people that they are the center of their own universe, who are largely in control of their own destinies and, in particular, who can control their own emotional well-being.

REBT [...] has dual goals: 1. To help people overcome their emotional blocks and disturbances, and 2. To help them grow according to their own goals and designs, to become more fully functioning, more self-actualizing and happier than they would otherwise be.

He has discovered over the years that humor is a key to helping people since emotional problems frequently come from people taking themselves, others, and the world too seriously.

In REBT, Ellis offers basic insights into human nature. He reveals [...] that it is not only the irrationalities of the outside world that create the conditions for people's emotional distress and unhappiness, but also that because people are human, everybody inherits a natural biological tendency for irrationality which leads them to upset themselves about the unavoidable and inevitable irrationalities in our world.

One of the rational beliefs Ellis has identified as being central to rational living is "acceptance". [...] people who do not accept reality as it presents itself and who instead, demand or insist that conditions in the world [...] absolutely should not and must not exist will usually overly upset themselves about these conditions. Their extreme emotionality, in turn, will make them less able to change obnoxious and accept realistic conditions and to live happily even when they cannot change them.

One of the most unique insights of Ellis is the duality of human psychological functioning. He theorized that all human beings have dual biological tendencies that operate in opposition to one another and that explain much of the way the mind operates including how people think, feel and act. There is the self-defeating tendency he called irrationality as well as the self-enhancing tendency he referred to as rationality. It is the rational side of people's psychological functioning that guides them in their pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment.

The irrational dimension of psychological functioning is characterized by high negative emotionality (e.g., anxiety, depression, anger, self-pity, guilt) and self-defeating behavior (e.g., aggression, avoidance, procrastination, substance abuse). The cognitive aspects of irrationality are dogmatic, rigid, unscientific irrational beliefs and associated irrational thinking that Ellis referred to as absolutizing or musterbation. Generally, when people think irrationally about adverse situations and events and, as a consequence, experience extreme anger, anxiety, and depression, they express their preferences, desires, and wishes as demands, commands, shoulds, needs, oughts, and musts [...].

Emotional misery, unhappiness, and avoiding important tasks of daily living obstruct the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately, according to Ellis, the irrational side of the human psyche is often a stronger, more dominating influence than the rational side.

REBT assumes [...] that all humans are born with two basic tendencies, which operate side by side throughout the life span and which appear to work in opposite ways to each other. The first is the self-actualization tendency that involves the gradual unfolding of people's innate potential as they achieve greater self-acceptance and learn more about themselves and their possibilities. The second tendency is irrationality and involves people's tendency to think in overly subjective, absolutistic, rigid, unclear, inaccurate, and self-defeating ways about themselves, other people, and the world.

He argued persuasively that although the environment in which people are raised can influence the way they think, people bring with them, even from day one, ways of interpreting what they experience in that environment.

Ellis proposed that the most general and far-reaching goal people have and share in common is to live a long and happy life. According to Ellis, the attainment of this goal is facilitated when three conditions (or sub-goals) exist: (1) People are achieving to the best of their ability in their chosen field of work endeavor that they find interesting and absorbing; (2) People are involved in satisfying and loving relationships with significant others (partner, family, friends, social group); and (3) People experience a minimum of needless pain and emotional misery as well as a maximum of comfort and pleasure.

Ellis' guide to rational living encourages people to experiment with their lifestyle and make choices based on personal knowledge and discovery that would bring them higher levels of excitement, passion, pleasure, and zest in the short-term as well as pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment in the long-term.

Ellis has said that while some people may experience significant pleasure and enjoyment of passive involvements such as watching television and reading the paper, most people tend to experience the highest levels of happiness both in the short-term and long-term when they actively participate in creative and vitally absorbing activities.

For Ellis, long-term happiness is a by-product of people achieving their goals and purposes in life, namely: (1) using one's strengths of character and personality traits, including rationality to achieve and excel at work (employment) and in other endeavors (hobbies); (2) relying on one's social competences and rationality to experience loving relationships that endure with one or more significant others including partner/spouse, family and close friends; and (3) through the use of personal coping resources, including rational thought, experiencing minimum periods of heightened, negative emotionality and stress as a consequence of environmental adversity of one form or another (e.g., lack of achievement, loss of loved one, frustrating circumstances including deprivation and over-stimulation).

Happiness does not fall in your lap because you are deserving. Rather, it is generally an outcome of work and practice in discovering those things you do well and enjoy doing (and those that you do not).

Why We Get Unhappy

It's never the things that happen to us which upset us. It's our view of these things.


Ellis considers the strong feelings of sadness, irritation, and concern as healthy forms of unhappiness because they help people to express their displeasure at undesirable happenings and work at modifying them. However, Ellis views strong feelings of anxiety, depression and anger as almost always harmful because they are painful to experience and because of their disruptive effects on people's thinking about the undesirable happening and on their behavior.

[...] your feelings and behaviors are largely consequences of your rational and irrational beliefs about some event.

Ellis makes the case that unhealthy happiness as experienced in anxiety, depression, and anger almost always stems from irrational commands that unpleasant events absolutely must not exist, that you should always perform successfully, that people must always love and approve of you, or that people should always treat you fairly and considerately.

In essence, people upset themselves by their own unrealistic expectations and ideal standards which they hold but which they can never reach because of their own inherent fallibilities as well as the unreasonableness of the standards themselves.

When people take a preference and make it into an absolute should or must what they really mean is that they must have what they prefer or want 100 percent of the time and under all conditions. And this will get them into emotional hot water because for the most part, nothing in life comes with a guarantee. Absolutes are not realizable in reality.

Not only has Ellis discovered that people's beliefs are at the root of their emotional problems, but he has also been able to identify two different types of beliefs: irrational beliefs which cause emotional distress and maladaptive behavior, and rational beliefs which help us to maintain emotional control and behave appropriately.

Irrational belief: I must have the love or approval from all people I find significant. [...] Rational belief: While it is desirable for me to be approved of and loved, I do not need it to survive. It is most desirable to concentrate on self-acceptance and on loving instead of being loved.

Irrational belief: I must be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving. [...] Rational belief: It is more advisable to accept myself as an imperfect creature with human limitations and fallibilities. It is often better to do than to do well.

Irrational belief: When people act obnoxiously and unfairly, I should blame and damn them and see them as bad, wicked, or rotten individuals. [...] Rational belief: People often behave unfairly, stupidly and inconsiderately and it would be better if they were helped to change their ways rather than to be severely damned and punished. It is not legitimate to rate their total worth on the basis of their individual acts.

Irrational belief: Things are awful, terrible, and catastrophic when I get seriously frustrated, treated unfairly, or rejected. [...] Rational belief: While it is undesirable to fail to get what I want, it is seldom awful or intolerable.

Irrational belief: Emotional misery comes from external pressures and I have little ability to control or change my feelings. [...] Rational belief: Because I mainly create my own emotional upsets, I can change them by thinking more rationally.

Irrational belief: If something seems dangerous or fearsome, I must preoccupy myself with and make myself anxious about it. [...] Rational belief: Worrying will not magically make things disappear. I will do my best to deal with potentially distressful events and when this proves impossible, I will accept the inevitable.

Irrational belief: It is easier to avoid facing many life difficulties and self-responsibilities rather than to undertake more rewarding forms of self-discipline. [...] Rational belief: In the long run, the easy and undisciplined way is less rewarding than the longer-range approach to pleasure and enjoyment.

Irrational belief: My past remains all-important and because something once strongly influenced my life, it has to keep determining my feelings and behavior today. [...] Rational belief: Continual rethinking of my old assumptions and reworking of my past habits can help minimize most of the pernicious influences from my childhood and adolescence.

Irrational belief: People and things should turn out better than they do and I must view things as horrible and awful if I do not find good solutions to life's grim realities. [...] Rational belief: Whether I like it or not, reality exists and I'd better accept its existence before I set about changing it.

Irrational belief: I can achieve maximum happiness by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly "enjoying myself". [...] Rational belief: I will tend to be happiest if I get involved in long-term, challenging work which requires the taking of risks and forces me to act against my own inertia.

A rational belief is true (consistent with reality in kind and degree and supported by evidence), not absolutistic (stated as a desire, hope, want, wish, or preference), generally results in appropriate emotion (irritation not anger, sadness not depression, concern not panic), and helps you obtain your goals. An irrational belief is not true (does not follow from reality, is not supported by evidence, and may be an overgeneralization), is a command (expressed as a demand versus a wish), leads to disturbed emotions (extremes of anger, anxiety, depression, guilt, jealousy), and does not help you attain your goals.

Refusing to Become Desperately Unhappy

Ellis argues that as a general rule, a prerequisite insight for people wishing to reduce their unhappiness is recognizing the fallacy of the commonly held idea that "Emotional misery comes from external pressures and you have little ability to control or change your feelings".

Ellis actively disputes the belief promulgated by psychoanalytic theorists that "It is the past and all its bad experiences which continually ruin the present and which can never really be overcome". He forcefully argues, instead, that people can overcome the effects of past experience by reassessing their perceptions of the past, and re-evaluating their interpretations of its influence.

"My goal in about everything that I do is to be efficient. You have only one life and it has a limited length of time. Time is of the essence, therefore, I try not to do inefficient things."

Using Ellis' easy to remember ABC alphabetical system, according to Ellis, people's feelings and behaviors are consequences (Cs) of their beliefs (Bs) about some activating or adverse event (A). Although activating events (As) often seem to directly cause or contribute to emotional and behavioral consequences (Cs), this is rarely the case, since between an activating or adverse event (A) and emotional and behavioral consequences (C) are their beliefs about the event.

A central element to the ABCs of REBT is the discovery by people of the irrational beliefs that create their emotional miseries as well as the rational beliefs that make them sane. A fundamental assumption of Ellis is that when people seriously upset themselves, they almost always accept or invent strong absolutistic, musturbating irrational beliefs.

One of the unique and powerful REBT methods for helping people to reduce or remove their emotional upsets is to show them how to actively challenge or dispute (D) their irrational beliefs and to help change them to new effective (E) rational beliefs which will enable them to think more rationally, behave more constructively and to live a happier and more fulfilled life.

The main disputation method for changing irrational thinking involves helping people examine their own thinking when they are extremely and inappropriately upset (depressed rather than sad, highly anxious and panicked rather than concerned, very angry and raging rather than annoyed and irritated). Sometimes called philosophical disputation or cognitive disputation, this method can be divided into three parts: (1) detecting irrational beliefs and seeing how they are illogical, unrealistic and unscientific; (2) debating irrational beliefs and showing yourself how and why they do not hold water; and (3) discriminating irrational from rational beliefs and changing the former so that you get healthier results.

There are three questions that Ellis routinely uses with his clients (and people can independently employ with themselves) to determine whether a particular way of thinking (self-talk) is irrational or rational.

  • Is what I am thinking sensible and logical (e.g., "Does it follow that because I like to be liked, I need to be liked?")?
  • Is what I am thinking true ("Where is the evidence?")?
  • Is what I am thinking helping me to achieve my goals?

Rational-emotive imagery (REI) is a widely employed emotional change method. The use of imagery involves people imagining themselves as vividly as possible in a problematic situation. To employ positive imagery, you imagine yourself in a bad situation but make yourself feel better and behave more adaptively. You can do this by thinking rationally in the bad situation you are imagining. To use negative imagery, you picture yourself in the situation and make yourself first feel very upset (for example, depressed or enraged) and then you imagine yourself in the same bad situation but this time feeling more appropriately negative (for example, displeased or irritated). You can do this largely through rethinking your view about the bad event.

Another popular REBT emotional change method used to get people to give up their basic nutty ideas, beliefs, assumptions, and hypotheses, and to really believe fairly consistently saner hypotheses and premises about the universe are shame-attacking and risk-taking exercises. These exercises are employed with people who are easily embarrassed or ashamed. They are afraid to engage in self-enhancing activities that often entail risks (test taking, giving a speech, making a date) because they view failure or rejection as a sign of their worthlessness, and as being personally unbearable.

Ellis has indicated that strong emotions largely consist of, or are at least derived from, the quite vehement and dramatic things we say to ourselves. To combat the effects of these self-statements, Ellis has proposed the use of passionate self-statements as another emotional change technique. By making people repeat, in a highly vigorous, passionate, and emotional manner, sets of rational self-statements to themselves and others (e.g., "I can stand this!", "This is a hassle, not a horror."), they begin to believe in them and feel better.

REBT has always strongly encouraged people to force themselves to do things that they find hard or unpleasant to do.

Operant conditioning is another behavioral change procedure Ellis employs with people in order to motivate them to think, feel, and act in self-enhancing ways. Ellis teaches people to reward themselves when they change old negative habits, and penalize themselves when they don't.

The Philosophy of Happiness: Principles of Rational Living

All people are born with a potential to lead fulfilling and happy lives. This potential is what Ellis and others [...] call self-actualization, the innate biological process all humans possess to grow and become fully functioning. With self-actualization, people possess the innate desire to utilize their unique aptitudes and constructive, creative problem solving tendencies that orient them towards doing things that bring them enjoyment and fulfillment. However, the self-actualizing potential can be blocked by emotional difficulties as well as inertia – the tendency to sit around and do nothing rather than actively participating in diverse activities to discover those that do (and do not) bring enjoyment and happiness.

Over the years, Ellis grappled with what might seem to be an inherent moral or ethical conflict between the self-interest he deems necessary for driving people's search for personal happiness and social interest that involves working towards the betterment and welfare of others and general society. According to Ellis, sensible and emotionally healthy people tend to be first or primarily interested in themselves and to put their own interests at least a little above the interests of others. They sacrifice to some degree for those for whom they care – but not overwhelmingly or completely.

As a realist, Ellis places self-interest a small step in front of social interest. He believes that the attainment of happiness is more likely to be achieved from individuals becoming absorbed in pursuits that bring them pleasure in the short- and long-term and not from defining the purpose of their lives as serving the needs of others.

While Ellis stresses the inalienable right of all humans to their own personal happiness, Ellis espouses a doctrine that could be called rational morality consisting of two basic rules: (1) be kind to yourself, and (2) do not harm others.

Ellis has indicated that social interest is usually rational and self-helping because most people choose to live and enjoy themselves in a social group or community. And if they do not act morally, protect the rights of others, and abet social survival, it is unlikely that they will create the kind of enjoyable relationships and to live in a group and community in which they themselves can live comfortably and happily.

To strengthen social-interest, you can remind yourself that for most people, great satisfaction is experienced when they volunteer their time and interest in helping another or serving a cause not as a means of proving themselves, but solely for the purpose of helping others. You can then go about identifying a person or a cause and the kind of effort and time commitment you are prepared to make.

"If you don't search for personal happiness, no one else is going to do it for you."

"You are not a good or a bad person, you are just a person who does good and bad things."

Self-acceptance is a rational belief that liberates people to grow. By eliminating the rating of self, people eliminate their anxiety and feelings of inadequacy and are free to make mistakes and risk rejection from others in their quest for discovering what they truly enjoy doing.

There is little question that people who are tolerant of others display high levels of social intelligence. This is displayed in two ways. First, they are aware of the many and varied positive characteristics in people who come from diverse cultures and different backgrounds. This awareness includes looking beyond specific disagreeable behaviors of individuals and groups and being openminded in considering their strengths. Second, people who are tolerant of others also display what Ellis calls unconditional other-acceptance.

"Unconditional other-acceptance means that you do not tolerate the antisocial and sabotaging actions of other people and you try to help them change. But you always accept them, their personhood, and you never damn their total selves. You tolerate their humanity while disagreeing with some of their actions."

When you meet with or read about individuals or groups whose behavior or customary ways of doing things is disagreeable or unacceptable to you, take the time to find out more about their positive traits and refrain from making overall judgments of them as people.

"My philosophy of happiness is honestly hedonistic... it endorses the principle of long-range rather than short-range hedonism: Minimize your needless pain and maximize your pleasures of today – and of tomorrow."

[...] one of the most important insights Ellis offers on happiness is the importance of becoming involved in creative and vitally absorbing pursuits and activities that offer immediate pleasure and enjoyment in their doing and, when pursued over time at work, in relationships and vocationally, result in satisfaction and fulfillment.

Don't expect vital absorptions to develop quickly. You may at first have to push yourself, experimentally and forcefully, into a certain field of endeavor, and make yourself stick at it for a reasonable period of time before you really begin to get absorbed in and fascinated by it.

Think about varying your interests and having some minor side project going, even if you get absorbed in some major endeavor. Humans dote on variety as well as sustained goals; and you can go stale if you only concentrate on one pursuit.

Uncovering people's idiosyncratic likes and dislikes largely involves them asking themselves – and as honestly as possible answering – several key questions.

  • "What might I like?" Ask this question on a regular basis. [...] He encourages people to find out more about those [pursuits] they find interesting. He encourages people to experiment with those they think they might enjoy.
  • "What things would I find zestful?" The challenge here is for people to discover what they uniquely like and dislike. The individual is never obligated to enjoy those things that a majority of people seem to enjoy.
  • "What do other people enjoy?" One of the best ways to discover what an individual really wants to do is to learn as much as they can about other people's gratifications, to think about how they might work for them, to try some of them on for size, and then to see how pleasing they really are.
  • "What will I probably like later?" Many pleasures of today not only pall tomorrow but also produce distinct disadvantages – e.g., smoking, drinking alcohol [...]. Other enjoyments – e.g., becoming adept at ballet or basketball – may serve your interests for a while but be impractical in your later life. So people can look for enjoyments that will bring them pleasure today – but that will also probably provide a long-range involvement.
  • "What would probably be more enjoyable than some of the things I now do?"
  • "What are the costs of some of my pleasures?" [...] All pleasures have obvious or hidden costs of time, energy, and money. So people had better ask themselves not only "Do I enjoy this pastime?" but also "Is it worth it?"
  • "How can I experiment with possible pleasures?"
  • "How long shall I persist in my pleasure-hunting experiments?"
  • "Need I ever feel ashamed or guilty about my enjoyments?"

To become more involved in creative and absorbing pursuits requires self-reflection. What are some of your hidden away talents and interests that you may only be dimly aware of that could be developed and applied at work and in other avocations?

Ellis encourages people to design risk-taking activities, where they believe there is a high likelihood of failure to help them combat their fear of failure and performance anxiety by providing evidence that failure is not the end of the world and they can stand to fail. Risk-taking activities also help people to extend their usual, daily experiences and by moving out of their comfort zones, increase the opportunity and likelihood they will find new experiences of interest, which bring pleasure. Ellis calls for responsible risk-taking where the risk associated with potential failure is not one with a high probability of dire consequences if one does fail [...].

To become more of a risk-taker requires you to move out of your comfort zone when searching for pleasurable and fulfilling activities. Risk-taking requires a ripping up of that part of your mindset that says: "I could never do that", "That's not me", and "I don't know enough to put my hand up to do that". Deliberately push yourself to experiment on doing things that are not typically you but which seem to have some appeal.

Ellis consistently points out that hard work, effort and persistence are essential ingredients of a rational philosophy of happiness [...].

Incorporating the principle of problem solving in your life involves you becoming aware of and accepting problems as they inevitably present themselves without blaming others, yourself, or the world for their existence.

For Ellis, emotionally healthy people refuse to strive unrealistically for total joy, happiness, or perfection, or for the total lack of anxiety, depression, and hostility.


"You are born and reared with a strong tendency to love and want to be loved... it is part of our nature to love others."

Ellis argued that while it is desirable to "love" and be loved by another person, humans do not need love to survive. That is, people can still be happy even when they are not in a loving relationship, for instance, when people are single or when their relationship has terminated through separation, divorce, or death.

The attachment of rating one's self to someone else's love and approval is psychologically ill advised and reckless, given the frequent uncertainty and volatility of most loving relationships.

"Nobody gets depressed from not having what they want. They depress themselves by demanding that they get what they want."

One of Ellis' most profound insights into how to love and be loved by another person is for you to be committed, first, to accepting, loving, and caring for yourself. Once you learn how to accept yourself with all your blemishes, then it is more possible to accept and love another with all of theirs.


Ellis has identified three main obstacles to encountering suitable love partners: social anxiety (unassertiveness, fear of rejection), hostility (anger), and procrastination (low frustration tolerance).

Once people give up their demand that dating must be easy and accept that it isn't – although it certainly would be preferable if it were – they will no longer be as frustrated when they encounter difficulties.

REBT also helps people to stop blaming and condemning their lives and the world for making things so hard and shows them that just because their dating has not lead to success in the past, it does not mean that the whole dating scene is rotten, nor does it mean they won't be successful in the future.

The likelihood of finding a suitable partner increases with effort, and reduces to near zero if you do not.

Ellis identifies anxiety as the main block to encountering suitable love partners. Cutting away all the peripheral reasons for shyness, unassertiveness and difficulties in social situations, Ellis has found at the core of people's shyness is an over-preoccupation with what others may think of them. This over-preoccupation leads to great anxiety and discomfort, which makes it almost impossible for people to participate in social situations and if and when they do they are so uptight that they function poorly. This over-preoccupation with other people's judgments is another way of stating that many people have a great fear of rejection.

REBT theory suggests what is satisfying in a relationship (sex, companionship, intellectual stimulation) is very much an individual matter. Moreover, what one person or couple finds satisfying or dislikes is also subject to change over time.

According to Ellis, when one (or both) partner in a relationship becomes extremely angry with the other for some unfair, inconsiderate, or unkind act, the anger itself all too often reduces that person's interpersonal problem-solving efficiency and escalates the problem by provoking a negative reaction in the other partner. Before Ellis discusses ways in which partners can resolve their differences and communicate more effectively, he vigorously challenges them to give up their anger, and, more particularly their anger-creating irrational ideas.

Simply stated, if you tend to get repeatedly angry with your mate, it is because you hold irrational expectations for your mate's behavior. (Your anger is not being caused by your mate's behavior)

Ellis disputes perfectionism in any area of human endeavor by getting people to accept the inherent imperfections of all human beings and to acknowledge that people should behave imperfectly because that's the way they are – fallible!

Ellis has always rejected the notion that "marriages are made in heaven" and that they must last forever. His view [...] is that for many different reasons, a particular marriage may not hold any good possibility of bringing long-term pleasure, satisfaction, and happiness for either or both partners. When one or both partners arrive at that decision, Ellis would consider it appropriate for the relationship to terminate.


According to Ellis, happiness realistically consists of human satisfaction that is to be achieved in the present and in the foreseeable future. Therefore, any action (be it sexual or otherwise) which brings a person happiness and which does not specifically, needlessly, or unfairly, harm the individuals involved can be considered ethical and moral no matter what various laws, religious teachings, or other authoritative persons may say about it.

Sex, according to Ellis, is very normal, natural, and desirable. Along with domestic, occupational, leisure, artistic, and sporting activities, it represents a major focus of happiness-producing human activity.

"It is difficult to conceive of a more beneficial, harmless, tension-releasing human act than masturbation that is spontaneously performed without (puritanically inculcated and actually groundless) fears and anxieties."

Masturbation was seen by Ellis as increasing your own sexual pleasure and fulfillment and as a normal and natural sexual outlet both for persons not involved in intimate relations but also for many involved with another. In the latter case, Ellis saw Masturbation as serving as an additional source of sexual gratification of each partner when the other partner was uninterested or unwilling to provide sexual gratification for the other or when one mate desired it for other reasons.

One of the key aspects of REBT sexual counseling is to show people that if they go into a sexual encounter overly concerned about proving their masculinity (or femininity) and self-worth, then they are almost doomed to experience sexual difficulties.






[...] it is not an inconsiderate boss, difficult customers, tedious or hard work, nor the unreasonable demands of the job, which prevent you from working efficiently and achieving goals. Rather, it is the reactions you have to these practical problems, which prevents you from solving them. A basic assumption of REBT is that when you are overly upset about any work problem it is very difficult to do anything constructive to solve it.

While REBT also recognizes the importance of practical skills in facilitating goal achievement (communication skills, time management, conflict resolution, etc.) and, frequently, teaches these skills if a person lacks them, it views personal-emotional reactions as the main stumbling blocks to success.

According to Ellis, indecisiveness occurs in situations when you know a decision had better be made for the good of yourself and your work, but you vacillate or avoid the issue because you are afraid that you will make a bad decision and fear other people's reactions. A dire need for approval is at the core of indecisiveness. This problem is created when you irrationally convince yourself that you could not stand to be disapproved of and criticized by others. And further, that such mistakes and disapproval would prove how hopeless you really were. This is especially the case for tough decisions, the ones that entail considerable risk or hardship.

Over-decisiveness can sometimes be a problem for people if they make decisions too quickly and rashly. Without weighing up fully the long-term consequences of making a decision to spend money, hire or fire personnel, or to commit oneself to a particular course of action, your impulsive decision-making may end up sabotaging your own best interests.

[...] one of the major causes of over-decisiveness is the thoughts and feelings you have about a problem and not the situation itself. To overcome impulsiveness, first rid yourself of the anger and low frustration that you create about the situation. Through questioning and challenging your irrational thoughts and reformulating them more rationally, you can remove the main obstacle to effective decision-making.

Ellis considers the way you think about and evaluate your work performance as often being more of a problem than the event itself. He argues forcefully that because you are human you are bound to, from time to time, make mistakes and perform in a sub-standard fashion. In addition, given the irrational, unpredictable nature of market forces as well as the people we work with, occasionally events will conspire against you so that even when you are working optimally you will fail to achieve what you want.

The irrational equating of self-worth with work performance is at the heart of not only the fear of failure but also the fear of trying for outstanding performances. In the latter case, you may avoid striving for the highest levels of achievement because you view non-achievement or lesser achievement as a sign of your total worthlessness and are afraid to take the risk.

Ellis disagrees with the popular sentiment that perfectionism is a good thing. While he encourages the pursuit of excellence, and, in particular, taking risks to achieve the fullest of people's potential, he steadfastly maintains that if people are perfectionistic, they are not only setting themselves up for a life filled with unnecessary unhappiness, but also for a level of emotional stress which leads to self-defeating work patterns and behavior such as poor concentration, poor organization of ideas, poor public speaking and public performance presentations – or worse, to giving up completely.

Perfectionists believe "I must perform perfectly at all important things I attempt in life". The problem with this belief is threefold. First, perfectionists set an extremely high and often unreachable standard to judge their performances ("perfection"). Second, they apply this expectations to many areas of endeavor without taking into account the difficulty of neither the task nor their innate potential and acquired skills to perform this task perfectly. Third, perfectionists take a quite rational preference for high levels of performance in areas of their work life (and, often, personal life), and illogically believe, "Because I would prefer to be totally successful, I must be".

There are two main work patterns associated with perfectionism: the "giving up" pattern and the "stress" pattern. "Giving up" is perhaps the more self-defeating of the two and, also, the harder of the two to detect. Perfectionists who "give up" do so because they believe that if they can't perform perfectly, there's no point in trying at all. By not trying, perfectionists protect their "egos" by never risking failure. Indeed, "giving up" perfectionists rationalize their lack of effort by saying they really would have succeeded had they tried. If you want to identify "giving up" perfectionists, look for people who are frittering away their talent by not attempting new challenges, nor specializing in what they do best and who remark, "I'm not really interested in getting to the top". "Giving up" is the best way for perfectionists to protect themselves from bad feelings. "Giving up" perfectionists believe that they cannot stand pressure and anxiety and that they must always be comfortable.

The "stress" pattern is characterized by perfectionists who desperately demand success but who put so much pressure on themselves for ideal performances that they worry themselves sick as they prepare to act and then experience extreme anxiety while performing. Before having to hand in a report, or make a public presentation, "stressed" perfectionists feel extreme discomfort in anticipation of what they have to do because they are obsessed with the irrational thoughts, "What if I don't perform perfectly, what will people think of me?"

"We allow others to do what we would never allow ourselves to do."

Why do people procrastinate? According to Ellis, the cause of procrastination is their reaction to hard, unpleasant or boring events, rather than the events themselves.

[...] the first step in modifying procrastination is for people to accept themselves while hating and working hard to change their self-indulgent, inefficient behavior. Once people stop putting themselves down, they can then work on the main cause of procrastination: low frustration tolerance and the associated irrational attitudes, which underlie this condition.

When faced with having to do unpleasant activities procrastinators, through irrational self-talk, literally make the activities and their feelings about them so horrible, that it is impossible for them to self-motivate: "This work is not only hard and boring, but it is too hard. I can't stand it! Life should be easier, fun, and more exciting. This is really unfair. It's awful, horrible, and terrible!"

Children and Parents

REBT has as one of its basic assumptions that when parents and children become (and stay) disturbed about the behavior of each other, it is almost impossible for them to communicate and solve their problems effectively.

Unkind and firm patterns of parenting involve such parental behavior as the setting of rigid rules, never letting their child question parents' authority, focusing on the wrongdoing of their child, attacking the personality of their child, using overstrictness, disciplining with anger, little praise, and no open affection. As a consequence of unkind and firm parental behavior, children often regard themselves as worthless and inferior, and view everyone else as superior. They experience feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and guilt, and may demonstrate not only submissive behavior, but also, may avoid things they find difficult or unpleasant.

A parent who is impatient with his child is a poor model for the child to learn from.

If parents overprotect their children from unpleasantness, failure, and frustration, these children will not be prepared to cope with the frustrating aspects of daily living.

Ellis has found that the "best" parenting style – the one which produces the best results – is one characterized by kindness and firmness. Parents who raise their children in this fashion talk and reason with their child about objectionable behavior, focus on the behavior and do not blame the child, set limits with clear consequences for rule violations, employ penalties that are designed to teach a rule rather than condemn the child, occasionally frustrate their child when necessary, apply pressure to their child to teach self-discipline, rarely punish out of anger, and frequently praise and show love to their child.

First, it is vital to have rules and desires for appropriate behavior that are clearly communicated to the child. The child had better know the rewards (and penalties) for following or breaking rules. Second, the rules and their consequences are to be applied consistently so that children have a way of predicting the behavior of their parents and of knowing what the consequences of their behavior will be. Third, parents had better calm themselves down first when disciplining their child before expecting their child to calm down. [...] And fourth, when disciplining a child, parents preferably should not expect their child's love or approval at that time. Later on, parents can remind their child they love him or her even though they disliked their behavior.

Death and Dying

His philosophical position is that it is not possible to "make sense" out of one's death and, therefore, it is sensible to accept that for all intents and purposes, we all die, and it is the end of life as we know it.

Consistent with humanistic philosophy is Ellis' rejection of the concept of an "afterlife". He argues strongly that until there is objective evidence to support the idea of life after death, people would be better off concentrating on accepting the eventuality that we all just die, exist no more, and had better live our one life to the fullest. According to Ellis, the acknowledgement of the finality of death without denying its inevitability enables one to concentrate on reasonable living and on dying with dignity.

"I think that people mainly cry at funerals not for the dear beloved who is dead and won't feel anything. But they know someday they're going to die and isn't that awful!"

Rational Living in an Irrational World

According to Ellis nothing in the universe is in itself upsetting. As Ellis' ABCs of REBT remind us, what happens to you or in the world around you (activating events) does not directly cause people to feel anything in particular (emotional consequence). Rather, people's beliefs about the activating event lead to their upset. Whether they rationally or irrationally interpret what happens will determine the type and intensity of the emotional upset and emotional stress they experience.

"Well, it's not all bad. Even Hitler wasn't all bad, he may have been 99 percent bad but you could find one percent goodness even in Hitler."

"Every time you use a dogmatic should or a must, a command, rather than a strong preference or wish, you think and act crazily – meaning humanly. Because you're demanding, you're whining that whatever you really want has to exist and that things that you abhor must not exist."

"You think that conditions upset you. But you really choose to do so yourself."

Albert Ellis Interviewed by Michael E. Bernard (from 1986 to 2004)

"[REBT] is optimistic in the sense that it believes that you can change yourself with hard work, which is one of the main ideas of REBT."