Two Way Of Looking At Life Lo01
This father and mother have two different ways of looking at the world. Whenever something bad happens to him, he imagines the worst. He is prone to depression; he has long bouts of listlessness; his health suffers. She, on the other hand, sees bad events in their least threatening light. To her, they are temporary and surmountable, challenges to be overcome. After a reversal, she comes back quickly, soon regaining her energy. Her health is excellent.
The pessimists: they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault.
The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case. The optimists believe defeat is not their fault. Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try harder.
These two habits of thinking about causes have consequences. Pessimists give up more easily and get depressed more often.
A pessimistic attitude may seem so deeply rooted as to be permanent. However, pessimism is escapable. Pessimists can in fact learn to be optimists, by learning a new set of cognitive skills.
At the core of the phenomenon of pessimism is another phenomenon that of helplessness. Helplessness is the state of affairs in which nothing you choose to do affects what happens to you.
Many things in life are beyond our control -- our eye color, our race, etc. But there is a vast, unclaimed territory of actions over which we can take control -- or cede control to others or to fate. These actions involve the way we lead our lives, how we deal with other people, how we earn our living -- all the aspects of existence in which we normally have some degree of choice.
The way we think about this realm of life can actually diminish or enlarge the control we have over it. Our thoughts are not merely reactions to events; they change what ensues. For example, if we think we are helpless to make a difference in what our children become, we will be paralyzed when dealing with this facet of our lives. The very thought "Nothing I do matters" prevents us from acting. And so we cede control to our children's peers and teachers, and to circumstance. When we overestimate our helplessness, other forces will take control and shape our children's future.
Judiciously employed, mild pessimism has its uses. But if we are in grip of this view, we will get depressed easily, we will accomplish less than our potential.
Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose they way they think.
Starting around 1965, the favored explanations began to change radically. A person's environment was considered less and less important in causing his behavior. Self-direction, rather than outside forces, could explain human action.
So the dominant theories in psychology shifted focus in the late 1960s from the power of the environment to individual expectation, preference, choice, decision, control, and helplessness. We belong to a society that grants to its individual members powers they have never had before, a society that takes individuals' pleasures and pains very seriously, that exalts the self and deems personal fulfillment a legitimate goal, an almost sacred right.
With these freedoms have come perils. For the age of the self is also the age of that phenomenon so closely linked to pessimism: depression, the ultimate expression of pessimism.
The psychoanalytic view on depression is based on a paper that Sigmund Freud wrote almost seventy-five years ago. I have to say that this view is preposterous.
In more than 90 percent of cases, depression is episodic: It comes and then it goes. The episodes last between three and twelve months.
Worst of all, the biomedical approach makes patients out of essentially normal people and makes them dependent on outside forces - pills dispendsed by a benevolent physician. Rather, when the successfully treated patient stops taking this drugs, the depression often returns. The antiaepressant drugs are as good an example of our overmedicated society as the use of tranquilizers to bring peace of mind or hallucinogens to see beauty.
Our workplaces and our schools operate on the conventional assumption that success results from a combination of talent and desire. Talent has proved to be roughly measurable, it has turned out to be depressingly hard to increase.
There is a third factor - optimism or pessimism that matters as much as talent or desire.
Our physical health is something over which we can have far greater personal control than we probably suspect.
We have found over the years that positive statements you make to yourself have little if any effect. What is crucial is what you think when you fail, using the power of "non-negative thinking".
Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn't matter. Explanatory style is the manner in which you habitually explain to yourself why events happen.
These skill are not mindlessly simple to acquire, but they can be mastered.