Personal Note

Happiness Is A Choice: Personal Note

Years ago, following the publication of my first book about the uplifting journey my family took to heal our special child (once neurologically impaired and dysfunctional), I spoke with a man who had written quite a different saga. He documented what he experienced as the difficult and damning reality of parenting a “less-than-perfect” youngster. He declared without apology that he hated people like me.

“You take something that’s terrible,” he said flatly, “and make believe it’s beautiful.”

I considered his point of view for a moment. “Did you ever consider,” I asked softly, “that you might be taking something that’s beautiful and making believe it’s terrible?”

At that moment, I realized that neither one of us held the truth, only a vision we had each created and then used to embrace our situation. I had decided to see my son and his difficulties as an opportunity to grow, learn and love. He regarded his situation as a curse. Our different experiences had followed from those distinctly different visions.

Wanting to reach out to him, I told him that I, too, would have once been overwhelmed and devastated by such an event. I remember, in grade school, watching a group of mentally retarded students trying to master the simplest aspects of a baseball game without success. I turned away, confused and uncomfortable about what I had witnessed. In high school, a boy in one of my classes walked with a limp, his left hand and arm contorted awkwardly. When he tried to speak, he had tremendous difficulty forming words and drooled uncontrollably each time he labored to verbalize even the shortest sentence. The teacher told us that Douglas had been born that way. Sometimes, other students mimicked his movements and laughed at their pantomimes. For one semester I tried to help him by carrying his book-bag, though I felt somewhat awkward, embarrassed and scared each time. I never knew what to say to him, so we walked together from the bus to the school building in silence.

Before the arrival of our first child, I thought about Douglas and how his life seemed like torture to me. I remember lying in bed one night, staring at the huge abdomen of my pregnant wife and thinking, “Oh God, what if … just what if what happened to Douglas happened to us and our child?” I remember praying for a healthy baby. Indeed, our first two children, both daughters, arrived as healthy and energetic little people. Our third child was very different. However, by the time of his arrival, my wife and I both had changed dramatically from the frightened and uncomfortable people who had greeted those first years of marriage and child rearing.

I tried to explain how the world had changed for me, in significant and irrevocable ways, once I had changed my own vision of life and had begun to make happiness and love priorities. As a result, my wife and I could greet our special child as a wonderful opportunity. The man with the different point of view listened to my sharing without comment. Finally, he laughed at my unending enthusiasm. He decided I had been well-intentioned but, nonetheless, naive and unrealistic in my hopefulness and happiness. He questioned the validity of my attitude. Ultimately, he preferred what he called his sanity.

During a question-and-answer segment immediately following a class I had conducted on developing attitudes of self-trust, a participant raised his hand tentatively. When I nodded at him, he withdrew at first, then leaned forward cautiously.

“My question is, um, somewhat related to what we’ve discussed, but in a bit of a different direction, and, er, more personal. I am having so much trouble with my asthma. I’ve gone from doctor to doctor. I take all the medication they’ve prescribed, but nothing really helps. I just can’t stand it. I wonder if you could say something, well, anything, that might be useful.”

I hesitated for a moment and considered sharing with him several scientific studies that would lay a foundation for what I knew would be my answer. However, the class had only minutes left. Finally, I smiled broadly and said, “This may sound silly or crazy or both, but I’ll do my best to give you a useful response. Be happy with your asthma! Instead of treating it like an enemy, embrace it like a friend. If you change your attitude about your condition you’ll change the chemistry in your body. Every thought we have is a physical event. Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides pop into existence throughout the body each time we activate a belief. Change the belief (the thought, the perspective, the judgment) and we change or, at the very least, influence the physical event we call our ‘bodymind.’ Your attitude and intelligence exist everywhere in the 50 trillion cells of your body. This is a marvelous and concrete opportunity for you, not just a pie-in-the-sky game. Give yourself and your asthma a different message and see what happens. So, when you have the tightness in your chest, the shortness of breath, the wheezing or coughing, you could first welcome it, talk to it, even play with it. Then open yourself, ultimately, to loving it, really loving it!”

He seemed amused, intrigued and skeptical. “I thought you’d say something like that,” he replied, chuckling. “Well, what do I have to lose? Okay, I’ll try it.”

The very next day, he came to the morning session of the program visibly rested and alert. “I had a special experience last night,” he told the group. “I greeted my nightly wheezing with a smile instead of my usual annoyance or depression. I actually did say hello out loud and laughed. I talked to my asthma like a friend. Wow! I told my asthma, we sure have a lot of history together.” He smiled shyly, then continued, “I even thanked my bronchial tubes each time I coughed. At first, I felt … well, absolutely ridiculous, but soon something magically freed up inside and I really felt loving and loved.” His eyes filled with tears. “You know, in no time at all, I fell asleep. Right now, I feel more comfortable and peaceful in my body than I have in months.”

This man had eased himself into being happy and loving toward a condition he had previously viewed as intolerable. He had created a powerful attitudinal advantage for himself. His play, his talk and his laughter helped him to change his vision of asthma from enemy to friend, and his new vision in turn changed his experience.

I never knew I could just claim happiness, at any time, as my birthright and not be limited by the condemning evidence of my own personal history and the past. That awareness, which I previously resisted as preposterous, has been a blessing and changed my life profoundly, allowing me in my own imperfect way to be so much more loving, peaceful and useful to myself and all those I touch.

During this past summer (as in many previous summers), my teaching staff and I lived and worked for two full months with a group of forty-two adults who had come together as strangers for eight weeks to form what became an instant family. This diverse group included a physician, a farmer, a lawyer, a social worker, homemakers, an engineer, a psychotherapist, a nurse, an artist, a carpenter, an actress, a computer programmer, a textile designer, several business executives, some entrepreneurs, teachers, college students, retirees and the like. They ranged in age from late teens to mid-seventies and hailed from urban and rural centers across the United States as well as from other countries. Together, we created an intention to explore completely the very substances of who we were and to recreate ourselves in accordance with our own individual designs. We dared to experiment with ourselves and then to live in ways that others might easily dismiss as “unrealistic” or “impossible.” Ultimately, the members of this amazing group (“amazing” tends to be my consistent reflection about all the groups, families and individuals I have had the privilege to facilitate) resourced and taught each other, crashed through the walls of limiting beliefs and constructed what we called “a vision to live by.”

Each day we gathered together for experiential interactions, discussions, intimate sharings and segments for self exploration. We laughed. We cried. We shouted. We whispered. We challenged each other. We loved and hugged each other. Eventually, we forged a respectful and honoring family of dear and supportive friends. Finally, we turned to an easel at the front of our meeting room and composed guidelines for an intentional lifestyle and then, in the weeks that followed, we put those guidelines into action with great energy and enthusiasm. We not only created a prototype of interfacing with other people in a happy, loving, accepting, stimulating and harmonious way, but also re-created our personal belief systems so we could be continuously open, self-accepting, energetic, embracing, joyful and yet unflappable (not vulnerable) in the face of judgments and criticism of others.

Even though we tripped and stumbled over old beliefs and judgments at times, we could not contain our awe and delight in what we had accomplished. No one could ever take that experience and learning from us or diminish the inspiration of what could become a possibility for everyday living on this planet. We did more than just dream that dream … we lived it, challenging and tickling each other until everyone had endless opportunities to experience their own momentous changes.

In response to their own appreciation for creating rapid, even instant, change in themselves, some members of this group returned to our teaching center (as did members of similar groups before them) with their entire families and helped loved ones quickly establish more open, intimate, supportive and loving relationships. Others brought friends and coworkers who wanted easier, sweeter and more nurturing life experiences and were willing to experiment by translating what they wanted into action. One man came back with the key executives from his company for a special program designed to help them create and live a common intention which encouraged open, authentic energetic, creative and fearless interaction.

“A vision to live by” has not only become the backbone for the staff and volunteers at our teaching center, but also the wellspring of inspiration for the individuals, families and groups we teach as well as an essential frame of reference for this book.

We now witness people implementing in hours what took us years to understand. The ideas contained on these pages can become a simple blueprint into which anyone can breathe life and thereby make profound, immediate changes. Oftentimes, we limit our perspective to past references, citing the evidence of yesterday as proof of what’s possible. But evidence tells us nothing about what we can be and do if we choose to walk a different path. When we have mentored people confronting catastrophic illnesses or situations and watched them triumph, defying the statistics and the predictions of experts, we are awestruck by people’s ability to reclaim their personal power and sense of self-trust. Suddenly, anything seems possible.

Now I would like to take your hand and guide you through a few hours of reading which, I believe, will enable you to make the most important decision of your life … to seize an attitudinal advantage by becoming happy and more loving right now, this instant, whatever your circumstances.

Remember, as you read, there will be something to decide and something to do … an easy, but amazing adventure.

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The Option Institute and its teachers have had the honor to present programs (during the last four decades) that explore the attitudes and beliefs we have (and may want to change) and to help program participants find their own answers to questions about relationships, careers, family challenges and health issues. Our new program, Health & Healing: Navigating Life’s Health Challenges (formerly '5 Days to Live') , focuses on navigating significant health challenges and decision-making with greater ease, clarity, and clear purpose.

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NOTE: Attendance of live sessions via Zoom are required to complete this course.

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Dear Donor,

Jeannie Reid was searching for answers to the challenges she and her family were facing. Jeannie and her husband Stuart’s son, Carson, had been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, a condition on the Autism spectrum. For Carson that meant being completely involved in obsessive behaviors and only using minimal words to identify objects, as well as frequently and completely melting down.

Soon after, Jeannie found the book, “Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues” and when she read it, she KNEW she had found what she was looking for. She began using some of the Son-Rise techniques described in the book on her own until she was able to come to The Autism Treatment Center of America for the Son-Rise Program Start-Up. As she put into practice what she learned there, Carson’s world was opening up. Today Carson is attending a Montessori school as a 'typical' student and functioning at or above typical grade level, being fully verbal and conversational, and very interested in learning about the world and interacting as much as possible with other people. He is even taking swim lessons at the local YMCA and doing great!

“It has been wonderful to get, and stay connected with other people and Son-Rise parents from all over the world. My son’s progress had already come very far, but now I truly believe we can go all the way!”

Jeannie wrote.

Stuart Reid then attended the Empower Yourself course and brought home a new sense of clarity, balance and personal power. He shared his new empowerment with Jeannie and she in turn gained in confidence, strength and enthusiasm. Their own relationship began to flourish anew, as well. Life-altering changes were happening for Jeannie and her family.

Jeannie journeyed again to Sheffield, this time for the Fearless course at The Option Institute to help her recognize and overcome her personal obstacles. Jeannie wanted to continue her amazing journey as she had found using the techniques she learned in The Son-Rise Program and in Fearless had absolutely changed the lives of everyone in her family.

But, because the Reids’ finances had been seriously stretched by then, their next steps were put on hold. Then an amazing event changed everything. Jeannie’s college roommate and lifelong friend decided to start a Son-Rise Program scholarship fund for people from the Cleveland area. Since then Jeannie has been able to move ahead with her courses, taking Radical Authenticity, Son-Rise Maximum Impact and Son-Rise Wide Awake ... and eventually she became a Certified Group Facilitator.

Jeannie Reid’s story is about wanting BIG and making it happen. She is about to embark on her renewed private practice as an art therapist, and plans to be a super advocate for The Son-Rise Program in her area. Her wonderful new life is a product of her persistence and belief, and of the wheels she helped set in motion for others when her friends learned of how she and her family had been impacted by The Son-Rise Program.

“I know I will be able to give back by helping others, and that will be the top of my personal mountain! Thank you to everyone who donates! You are making a big difference in the world!

Jeannie Reid


Dear Donor

Two years ago, Antonio's kindergarten teacher told us something was not quite right with our little boy. He was not socializing, he somersaulted all the time and hardly spoke at all. At the time I was working for a municipality close to Florence, Italy and basically I had nothing left after seeing to basic necessities.

In the meantime, I looked up Autism with Google and as I was also looking for happiness and personal growth, I was guided to The Option Institute, thence the Autism Treatment Center of America. I read up as much as I could and started trying to apply the “Happiness is a Choice” suggestions. I'm not quite good at it but it has helped me with attitude, and everything else that seemed trying is really different after all this.

When I decided to come for The Son-Rise Program Start-Up, I really had little or no money to pay for it. I spoke to my friends, old and new. My mother helped me, friends I thought couldn't [help] tried their very best and the scholarship did the rest.

What the scholarship did was give a HUGE boost to my fundraising. About six friends contributed the rest, at the travel agency a very kind lady who I may now call a friend helped me some more. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness. Here I am, happy to have attended the Start-Up program and looking forward to learning more and praying to God for guidance.

So the gist of the matter is, I am a happy mum who hopes to implement a wonderful relationship with her child and is riding a not so easy moment with lots of hope in her heart and THANK YOU is not enough for what I feel. I still remember William's words, “If you do what you've always done, you will get what you've always got.” Now I'm trying to do different, bit by bit, day by day. I feel the difference already.

About Antonio ... we are going on with the Italian program and I play with Antonio after school in a quiet room in the house. Knowing what the little guy is exposed to (he's always putting his fingers in his ears and he seems to have problems with too much light in his eyes), I find him very brave as he bears it tolerably. Drums a lot to digest it all.

When we went to the doctor, just weeks after starting the program at home, she told me that she found him more attentive. His attention span has increased. He is also tagging or pulling at one's arm when looking for attention. The child psychologist last Saturday reported the same thing and what's more, my son has always required that I enter the room, hence assisting in every session. Well, this time he went in along with the doctor and told me, “See you later.”

At school, his teacher who speaks English as well, read up and watched my DVD (Kyle’s Journey, Jade and “I want my little boy back”). Now she's changing, bit by bit and I do appreciate that very much. He seems to be OK with her and actually sent me away from class this morning, again telling me, “See you later.”

He is now ONE HUGE GREENLIGHT and I'm hoping to be able to really have volunteers (still looking), raise funds and settle down to business.

God bless,



Dear Donor,

I am the mother of three children, all on the Autism Spectrum. Before I heard of the Son-Rise Program and the Option Institute, I was a desperate, angry and depressed person…. I was on Anti-depressants, sleeping multiple hours of the day, and for a period of time, using alcohol to run away from my pain.

Then I heard of the Son-Rise Program. I called to find out more about it and thought “this if for me!” But I could not afford it. You see raising one child with Autism is very expensive but raising three is just outrageously expensive with all the therapies and dietary interventions that we were doing.

But I was offered a full scholarship to the SRSU program. I have since attended all of the Son-Rise Programs and many of the Personal Growth programs offered by the Option Institute.  Each time I have been given a scholarship and each time I go I learn more about who I am and I change for the better each and every time.  Because of your most generous support, my children are recovering from Autism, I have found happiness in my life!  I am no longer on anti-depressants and I have so much more energy.

YOU are the reason that my family is in recovery. It is because of YOU that my oldest son now is enjoying school.  YOU are the reason my second son is speaking. YOU are the reason my daughter is no longer as rigid and controlling as she once was.  Thank you does not even begin to cover how much gratitude I have for you.  I thank God every day for you and I do not even know you.

Please know that you are changing lives with your donation to ATCA and the OI.  It is because of you that every day people are getting the help that they need. Thank you, thank you and thank you!

With so much love,

Kerry Rihtar