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Scientist Obituary: William Glasser, Psychiatrist Who Held That Happiness Is A Choice

Happiness, misery, emotional problems. Everything is a choice. That was the view of Dr. William Glasser, a psychiatrist who pioneered the choice theory, which holds that mental health is mostly a matter of personal choice.

Glasser originally graduated from college in 1945 with a degree in chemical engineering. Unhappy with his work, he returned to university a few years later and earned a second degree in psychology. While serving as resident psychiatrist at a V.A. hospital, he felt disillusioned.

Dr. William Glasser

“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,” said Glasser. “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 added, “I was thrown off the staff.”

Glassner went onto write more than two dozen books promoting the choice theory which, while controversial to some, remains extremely influential among teachers, drug counselors, and personal therapists.

Read more about Dr. Glasser in his New York Times obituary.

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Annie Murphy Paul

    Annie Murphy Paul is a book author and magazine journalist who writes about how we learn and how we can do it better. A contributor to Time magazine, she writes a weekly column about learning for, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among many other publications. She is the author of “The Cult of Personality,” a cultural history and scientific critique of personality tests, and of “Origins,” a book about the science of prenatal influences. She is now at work on “Brilliant: The New Science of Smart,” to be published by Crown in 2014. You can read more about the science of learning at her website,