Compass Consulting — AskDrRick.com
Most of the good stuff we all want inside—the gratitude, kindness, grit, self-worth, confidence, feeling loved, resilience, compassion, insight, happiness, and inner peace—comes from turning experiences of these desired qualities of mind and heart into lasting inner strengths of our heart and character.
Meanwhile, feelings of stress, frustration, irritation disappointment, hurt, worry, and pain are being rapidly and efficiently coded into our self-talk relentlessly tilting our mind toward pessimism, anxiety, reactivity, contraction, drivenness, craving (addictions) and clinging (codependency), and weariness, all leading us into a blah mood.
Happily, we can use the ability that God has given us in everyday life to recognize and tune into wholesome experiences. Not just the more painful ones.
The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Roman church, “Do not be conformed any longer to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is God’s will—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2. I wonder how much or how often we allow these kinds of words to re-direct our thinking?
From Hopelessness To Happiness—A Learnable Life Skill
If life could be graded, Anthony would give his an F. His new job is stressful, his teenage daughter is struggling with depression, he and his wife are fighting a lot, and he hates himself for the extra 50 pounds he’s carrying.
Anthony feels hopeless and his life seems depressing and dark. Every setback reinforces his feelings of pessimism and grim certainty that nothing will ever get better.
Barbara’s struggles seem just as daunting. Her husband just lost his job, two months after the birth of their first child. She is responsible for her elderly mother, who is becoming increasingly frail. To make things worse, her best friend and main support is moving to another state and the landlord just raised the rent by $200. Despite all this, Barbara gives her life a strong B+ and knows there are some A+ days ahead.
Unlike Anthony, Barbara sees her setbacks as temporary obstacles to be overcome. To her, crises are part of life, opportunities for her to gain in wisdom and courage.
Put simply, some people are optimists and others are pessimists. However, optimism isn’t an accident—it’s a skill that can be learned, one that can help us feel better, resist depression and greatly improve our lives.
Psychologist, clinical researcher and bestselling author Martin Seligman has spent 25 years studying optimism and pessimism. In his book, Learned Optimism, he states that pessimistic thinking can undermine not just our behavior but our success in all areas of our lives as well.
“Pessimism is escapable,” he writes. “Pessimists can learn to be optimists.”
By altering our view of our lives, we can actually alter our lives, he says. First, he says we must recognize our “explanatory style,” which is what we say to ourselves when we experience a setback. By breaking the “I give up” pattern of thinking and changing our interior negative dialogue, we can encourage what he calls “flexible optimism.” He believes that focusing on our innate character strengths (wisdom, courage, compassion), rather than our perceived failures boosts not just our moods, but our immune system. Research has shown that optimistic people tend to be healthier and experience more success in life; therefore, he encourages parents to develop the patterns of optimism in their children.
Practicing “spiritual optimism” is another way to improve the quality of our lives, writes Joan Borysenko, psychologist, speaker and author of several books, including Fire in the Soul. She encourages people who experience feelings of despair and hopelessness in times of crises to remember it takes courage to live, and that we can find that courage by facing our fears, finding support and using prayer or meditation.
Similar techniques outlined by Dr. David Burns in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, have been effective in treating depression. He believes that changing our thinking has a profound effect on our moods, including cases of severe depression. It’s not our lives that depress us, he writes, but our thinking about our lives.
Often I am asked to speak at the Stephen’s Ministry continuing education classes. I share from the work of David Burns from a Biblical perspective.
It is very easy to integrate scriptures into his work, because it is the very nature of God for us to move beyond our pain and focus on opportunities to think positively in the midst of the often painful experiences in our lives. It is quite a privilege for me to share with such wonderful people who have given of their time and energy to help others. These are the kind of individuals who have found happiness and joy in helping others. What a gift and honor to align myself with such a caring group. This is the key to change and the key to happiness. This is the kind of crazy that makes sense and can be rather fun.
So unless we begin to change our thinking, our life outlook may remain bleak and dismal. However, life is likely to graduate to even more satisfying and fulfilling, because we chose a life that is filled with challenges and opportunities to overcome.