Thursday, October 13, 2005

"Positive Psychology Sounds Like a Load of Crap to Me"

This is your friendly neighborhood psychologist, Dr. John and I spoke with a listener a few days ago. His name is John also. And it was interesting speaking with him.

He wanted so much to believe in what I am saying on the radio. And I realize that at times what I’m saying here may sound to you like a load of crap. There are times it sounds pie-in-the-sky and polly-anna-ish. I understand that. Despite that, I continue to speak about it. Why?

BECAUSE… IT …WORKS. All this stuff I’m sharing with you on this radio show work to help make your life better. It’s been proven in research studies at the best universities in the world.

William Faulkner said, “I have found that the greatest help in meeting any problem with decency and self-respect and whatever courage is demanded, is to know where you yourself stand. That is, to have written down in words what you believe.”

The problem is that we’re hurting too badly to trust anyone long enough to give it a chance. We’re too pessimistic. We think that it is safer to stay in the hell you know that to risk stepping out into the unknown.

Charles Du Bos said, “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

And still, John has doubt. He has fear. He remains skeptical. He is scared. He is hurt. Someone hurt him …badly… in the past. And this makes it difficult for him to trust and to believe.
Difficult to believe in something good.
Difficult to believe in a life of happiness.

And I understand that feeling. I’ve been there.

Heck, I’ve felt it today. I’ve been in a funk all day today. My youngest son kicked my older son in the face this morning OVER a blanket. And the worst part is that there was an identical blanket an armful away from him. Only it was a different color and that blanket wasn’t his. He could have just as easily picked up the blanket on the floor and traded it to his brother. He could have asked for the blanket. He could have asked for help.

Instead, he resorted to violence on an impulse. I lost my temper and yelled at him. And I’m watching myself as I’m yelling, thinking “This makes absolutely no sense to me. I’m doing exactly what I’m saying NOT to do.” And I think that the anger that I felt following the incident was perhaps more disturbing to me than the fact my son kicked my other son’s face.

We’ve all felt that way at times in our life. And I know that the degree of pain and hurt and suffering is different for each of us. I know that some of you have been hurt very badly. Some of you have been hurt beyond what words can describe. No one gets through life without pain.

We’re all hurt. We’re all scared. We’ve all been screwed by someone. But when you let them turn you off, when you let them shut you down, when you let the fear win, when you let the anger rule, you let them win. You let the people who hurt you win. And I cannot stomach that thought. I will not give up. And you will not either. How much of your self is tucked away in a little corner? Most of us have hidden so much of our real self from the whole world that we barely exist anymore. It's time to reclaim your life - your vitality.

So I hope you will join me in trying to improve ourselves and the world around you. I hope you will trust me.

I am not a wealthy man. I don't do this for money. If I'm fortunate that may come along the way, but that’s not why I do this. I do this because it’s the right thing to do, because I believe I have knowledge and experience that can benefit you… to slow the violence and the insanity, and to help people relearn how to enjoy life.

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “What a man is contributes much more to his happiness than what he has, or how he is regarded by others.”

Wealthy, successful and wretched

Alright, I told you that I would talk a bit about wealthy, successful and wretched today.

The latest research is clearly showing that if you are in your 30s or 40s, you are earning more than ever, you are more successful than ever, yet you’re more wretched and depressed than ever. When you are in your 30s and 40s, you are at a peak in your career, you have children, you have no time, and you realize that life is not everything that you had hoped. Some of your dreams may have died.

You’re too busy to change how lousy you feel inside. And so, amazingly, we adapt.

We become used to this growing sense of dissatisfaction. We think that it’s just the way it is – that there is nothing better.

The evidence of this midlife misery has been shown by economists, psychologists, and sociologists. The evidence is overwhelming. What they’ve found is that happiness is U-shaped where people are increasingly unhappy as they approach their 40s and then most of us rebound from there. It’s been found in many studies and many countries. It’s clear that this dynamic exists.

The question is “How do we change it?”

I can tell you how you WON’T change it. Don’t expect that a new car, or a pay raise, or a promotion, or a new child to take away that sense of dissatisfaction and misery. Oh, it may do so for a few minutes or hours or days, but eventually, the gnawing sense of unhappiness will return. That’s our adaptation at work.

The experts call this the “hedonic treadmill” which is the idea that we quickly adapt to changes in our lives and thus end up feeling no better off due to external changes such as more money. And you can see this at work, even in extreme examples such as people who have won the lottery as well as people who have lost an arm of a leg. Within a year’s time, they return to the same level of happiness that once had prior to the good or the bad news. We have a happiness set point which is predetermined.

None of the things that we normally associate with greater happiness actually LEAD to more happiness – money, marriage, cars, working fewer hours, having no commute, buying a nice house, a pay raise, a promotion at work, and so on. These things will bump up your happiness for a short period of time and then it’s back to your set point.

So, how do you become less dissatisfied? How do you become happier?
Well, that’s what this program Guide To Self is all about. That’s what I’m talking about here every day – how to reclaim your happiness.

You reclaim your happiness by raising the bar in six areas – physical, ethical, emotional, mental, relational and spiritual.

So how do you go about doing that?

Odds are that you are already doing much of it if you’re listening to this program.

The burning question is “Are you doing ALL of it?

Are you stretching yourself in each of these six areas?
Do you know what your top values are?
Are you in great physical shape?
Can you manage your emotions?
Do you know how to stay positive amidst trouble?
How strong is your relationship to God?
Are you surrounded by positive people?

You need to realize that a weakness in any one of these areas can cause your whole life to collapse.

And I’ve seen it many times before, so let me give you an example. I’ll call him – Ted.

Ted is a strong Christian man who prays daily. He is physically fit, running five miles daily. He knows what his core values are. He is a positive thinker.

Yet, he is weak in one area – managing his own emotions. When his children misbehave, his anger erupts. He yells at them, making his children believe they are bad people, undermining their self-confidence and causing fear and anxiety to take root in them. His children may grow up to resent and reject God because of the behavior of their father.

Ted’s wife fears his unpredictable moods – irritation, withdrawal, sadness, anger, and impatience fill most of his days.

Due to his poor emotional control, Ted risks undermining his values which include treating others with respect and love. He risks an unbalanced spiritual life by setting a poor example for his loved ones, an example that is in direct opposition to the behaviors modeled by Jesus.

Ted’s negative emotions also eat away at his physical health as we now know that anger and irritation are directly related to greater risk of stroke, heart attacks, low self-esteem, migraines, ulcers, substance abuse problems. Finally, Ted’s difficulty with anger leads to troubled relationships at work and with friends and family. It also interferes with his financial situation because he erupts at his bosses and loses jobs.

As it goes with the management of your emotions, so it goes with each of the other critical areas – physical health, relationship with God, mental health, awareness of values and supportive relationships.

You cannot lead an exemplary life by excelling in only one or two of these.

Focusing on one or two of these areas is not sufficient for an extraordinary life.

Weakness in any one of these areas is enough to destroy a lifetime of hard work. Each of these areas interacts with and has an effect on every other area. They are interconnected. You can’t simply ignore one area and hope it goes away. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

You have to focus on strengthening and becoming more aware of each and every one of these areas to create your extraordinary life.

Remember, YOU are the good worth fighting for.

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

You have to begin with yourself.

Only then can you truly help others. And this life is all about serving others because that will lead to happiness.

All my love,
Dr. John
Guide To Self
KDIA 1640 AM
Monday - Friday
5:30 pm
Guide To Self(C) 2005. All rights reserved.


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