How to Turn a Lousy Day Into a Great Day
All About the Doldrums
By: J. Marlando
It doesn't matter who we are, we all have lousy days. We have down times of depression, loneliness, unhappiness, frustration, anxiety, boredom and even unexplained sadness. Sometime these kinds of days make us feel like screaming or, as some say, climbing the walls. When the negative feelings are bad enough, all we'd like to do is escape ourselves which is impossible of course. In any case, these feelings of upset and despair often last for hours or even days and I am not talking about people who are clinically ill and need a doctor's care. This article is about folks who are in at least average, good mental and emotional health who simply fall into sour moods every now and again and endure that nothing-ever-goes-right-for-me feeling.
There are all kinds of reasons why these "downers" hit us ranging from driving in thick traffic to not having enough money; to having a fight with a spouse to...well, you name it. Sometimes, as the old saying goes, we simply get up on the wrong side of the bed. We've all been there and done that!
In this article I am going to attempt to tell you how-to turn a lousy day into a great day and, while I'm at it, give you my hypothesis of how normal,s healthy people fall into the trappings of deep-seated down-moods so you, the reader, can avoid them at least most of the time.
Before we get started, however, I want to make it clear that I am not a psychologist or neuroscientist so if you feel that your depression or unhappiness is clinical, go see a professional to seek help. Remember we live in a pretty advanced world that offers a wide range of alternatives that stretches from therapy to Prozac.
With the above said, we will begin our trek in finding our way to happier days.
The Chicken & Egg Theory
Modern science has a few positive tricks to uplift our moods including medications. The problem of course is that medications are seldom about curing illnesses but instead about "controlling" them. When was the last time you heard an ad that said, this medicine cures your diabetes or depression?
Where I believe the problem can be found in science's approach to symptoms such as unhappiness. frustration, unfounded angers, sadness and all the other moods we experience that express themselves in different modes and levels of depression, is in science's basic approach to the maladies. That is, they assume that all despair originates in and/or by the brain. As a result they look for places in the brain the regulates moods or releases chemicals of joy and chemicals of depression. The try and figure out how nerve cell connections work and how nerve circuits operate to cause and cure despair. In other words, they believe that no matter how we experience life, it is the physical brain that is doing the cause and effect of the experiencing. The major reason for this is because, in general, doctors, scientists and other researchers are indoctrinated in the belief that the mind is a mere epiphenomenon of the brain or, in other words, a function of the brain.
I offer that in reality it is rather a chicken and egg question. What arrives first, the brain disorder or the depression? What if instead of the brain dictating the feeling, the feeling directs the brain function? In other words the "I" of us tells the brain what kind of chemicals it produces--happy and content ones or unhappy and discontented ones. Indeed, what if it is precisely as Dr. Paul Pearsall tells us and we can "not only tell our brains what but how to think."
Before investigating this further it is essential to grasp that most (not all) but most people in medicine and scientific research are reductionists that are convinced that we are the totality of our parts and...nothing more. As a result they avoid the topic of consciousness and so the I-ness of ourselves. They had rather lay the blame on something like the production of neurons in the hippocampus than even consider that the choices we make alters the workings of our brains. When we tell our brains that we are sad, mad, happy, peaceful or experiencing some other feeling, our brains go to work in creating the reality. Remember the brain is a body part, a complex gland but a gland nevertheless.
I am in good company when I suggest this. Candice Pert, a renowned neuroscientist tells us this, "I can't relate to the mind/body dichotomy anymore....Disease is a hundred percent in your head. It's just your brain state being reflected in your body. And Dr, Bernie Siegel, the famous cancer surgeon who teaches that love is physiologic and can be essential to the healing process. Also Dr. Paul Pearsall that tells us that, "The 'I,' the self is much more than the reverberations of neurons and we are much more than we 'think' we are. There are many others that support the idea that we are far more in control of our own bodies than we are engineered to believe that we are.
But how do we rid ourselves of such strong emotional dictates such as unhappiness or anxiety?
A Peak of Down in the Dumps
There are all kinds of reasons why we people fall into down moods. Let's take money problems because they are so common in our times. Money problems can be so disheartening because they can only be cured with money. As a result when you don't have (enough) money you fill with fear, anxiety and depression that can sweep over you like the darkest storm cloud.
During times of financial struggle you add fuel to the emotional fire with blame. You may blame yourself but you will also blame your spouse or anyone else that you believe contributed to your situation. In most instances you will also feel sorry for yourself. After all, in our society "stuff" is what gives us feelings of self-worth and contentment. When we can't buy "stuff" or when we lose the stuff we've bought...we hurt. Since 2006 there have been millions of homes lost. The Great Crunch goes back to the greed of Wall Street, mortgage companies and banking. And, another reason that a great many people topple from being financially okay to financially burdened is not all because of the credit card virus. That is of spending more than one can afford and ending up in bankruptcy or simply not making their bills and ending up with a harmful credit score. (The credit score people are typically as nasty, inaccurate and heartless as the credit card companies).
Okay you get the picture. Or do you?
While employment numbers are sliding up, a great many middle-class workers are now taking low-paying jobs in the attempt to keep up with a life style once enjoyed. Indeed, there are at least 4.7 million who are working and yet enduring serious financial struggle. It ain't all their faults. Gigantic companies are putting smaller business out of business and then hiring people who will work for minimum or low-standard paydays--this while the cost of living keeps raising at a faster pace than (fair) paying jobs are unfolding. These days even some executive types are forced to live on a mediocre salary...while, I will add, owners and CEOs are earning millions of dollars a year. There is clearly a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in the U.S. Our hungry and homeless is a disgrace to we older folks who never dreamed that at least 1.1 million students would be homeless during their school year with many going to school hungry or that our fellow Americans would be sleeping in doorways.
There are all kinds of other depressants too--illness to divorces and family breakups to simply sharing a stressful life with others and yes, death and taxes; impossible medical bills and all the rest that create a Darwinistic society to fail or succeed in. In view of this there remains many arrogant people who condemn things like welfare and food stamps. They are living in a Norman-Rockwellian world that never really existed in any case. And, in any case, food stamps and welfare is never enough to combat poverty they merely support it. Indeed, Americas so-called War on Poverty has only been fought with rhetoric and rubber bullets.
Okay point made, times are tough for a whole lot of people and there's nothing on the horizon that promises things will get any better. What can get better, however, is how each of us respond to our dilemmas.
When I have mentioned this to people a lot...perhaps even most, respond with something like, "I can't control how I feel." That is, I can't just send my depression (anxiety, unhappiness, anger, frustrations) away.
This is a personal myth, however. You can do much to avoid these downers in the first place even under the most stressful circumstances and actually get rid of those that have you in their grip.
We'll talk about how next.
Exploring A New View of Brain Works
Before we start on reducing the unhappiness in our lives, it is essential to understand that we can become addicted to anger, unhappiness, feelings of anxiety and even depression. These kinds of responses to life can actually become comfort zones for some people without them really knowing it. Indeed, even anger can be a way of reaching out to others or keeping the self hidden from them by a lot of people. Sometimes a show of anger and even outrage can be a statement of why can't you see how much I'm hurting as opposed to the vexation that "being angry at the object" typically demonstrates.
Depression can be (and often is) a signal of helplessness; look at how terrible I'm feeling, Won't someone make things better for me or I feel so bad for me. Depression does not necessarily relate to unhappiness but nearly always is connected to despair which is of course an unhappy state in and of itself. It is, however, as Kierkegaard tells us:
"Despair is never ultimately over the external object but always over ourselves. A girl loses her sweetheart and she despairs. It is not over the lost sweetheart but over herself without the sweetheart. And so it is with all of loss whether it be money, power, or social rank. The unbearable loss is really not really in itself unbearable. What we can't bear us being stripped of the external object; we stand denuded and see the intolerable abyss of ourselves."
Once we can grasp and accept the Kierkegaard observation, we can more readily come to terms with our feelings and more easily snap ourselves out of our downer moods and attitudes.
The above sends us back to the workings of our physical brains; that complex organ that bobs between our ears: Most scientists and researchers insist that thinking and feeling are "functions" of the brain. Indeed, when it comes to depression, for example, they turn to biology; to nerve cell connections, the functioning of nerve circuits and the like. It never seems to dawn on them that the depression (or other upset) arrives first and then the brain makes its physical changes.
Permit me to tell a story that demonstrates what I am attempting to say here:
Mark comes home from a hard day and thick traffic, all he wants to do is kick off his shoes and flop in front of the TV set. As soon as he walks into the house, however, his wife reminds him that they are going to a party that evening. This reminder is devastating to Mark and he tells his wife that he simply doesn't want to go.
Mark's wife insists. She says, "We have to go because we promised."
Mark goes upstairs to shower, swearing under his breath all the way. First of all he doesn't care about going to parties in any case and he just feels miserable going to this one. After he showers and changes he and his wife drive across town to the party.
Mark grumbles all the way--He's feeling a mixture of anger because he feels obliged to go, frustration and upset because he truly does not want to go and plain old unhappiness because he's not doing what he wants to do.
By the time they reach their friends house and go in, he's so filled with anxiety that he feels like screaming or throwing something. He doesn't of course. He tries to act congenial as he can but he quickly finds his way to a corner of the room and stands in a sour mood having a miserable time. "I hate being here," he tells himself.
And so he experiences a certain angry anxiety. His brain delivers the chemicals of discontentment and frustration and so his body feels these negative responses. It is as William James once said: "...It will be safe to lay down the general law that no mental modification ever occurs which is not accompanied by a physical change."
Anyway, after a half an hour of being miserable, he looks through the crowd and sees an old friend that he hasn't talked to in years, a person that he has always liked. Quite suddenly he perks. "Oh, this is great, what a coincidence," he tells himself and just as suddenly the brain delivers happy endorphins. And, from that moment, the party changes from drab and boring to fun and exciting. His brain did not create the moods but rather the moods created the changes in the brain. In other words when we look at the world with love and reverence the brain creates the chemicals that brightens and gives joy, fulfillment and contentment. It is, as I have said many times: Deem the rose bush a thorn bush and that is what it will become for you. In this way, your brain can be likened to a genie that simply grants what you tell it to grant.. After all, as the new physics explains, the world outside ourselves is not over there as we typically assume but is a projection of our own creative process. What we deem to be joyful is joyful just as what we deem to be despairing will be.
I realize that a great many reductionists will disagree with what I've said in the above because they cannot comprehend, much less accept, that our brains are mere mechanical devises that our bodies need to operate and survive in what we call the "real" or "physical" world; that there is an "I" of us that does the experiencing, giving each of us "feeling awareness" which is the at the core of our being.
The above view is best described by Dr. Paul Pearsall who clearly states what I have been struggling to get at. He says, "The highs and lows that the endorphins produce are actually related to alterations in the way he brain pays attention to its world and what we tell our brains to pay attention to."
With this in mind we will talk directly how to "choose" positive days over negative days.
Beating the Blues
The first and most vital comprehension is that you are not your problems, you are not your leaky sinks or bald tires any more than you are your overweight, wealth or poverty. You may be enduring these kinds of conditions but they simply ain't you; they are merely what they are.
In this view you are not your mistakes or regrets, indeed in every new moment you are brand new--this means, however, that while you not your defeats, you are not your victories either--you are you and as whole and happy as you will permit yourself to be. And it is ever as easy to say I love the world today as it is to say I hate the world. In both instances you are in the process of creating what your world will be like today. In fact, when you say that you "hate" your world, you are creating your world somber and hateful while loving your world manifests just the opposite.
The first thing a depressed person will be saying here is something like, Yes, but loving the world won't pay my bills, lose weight for me, rekindle my relationship or whatever. And this is absolutely true. All the positive thinking in the world is not going to change anything without positive action. But this is not what we're talking about here.
We are talking about uplifting our spirits using the metaphor "beating the blues." The problem is that most of us are likened to the child that can't go outside to play in the rain. Mother says, "I don't want you out there getting wet and muddy. You have a ton of toys and other things to do right here in the house."
Because the child desires to go outside he creates all his toys and games inside the house into unfavorable alternatives. He wants to go outside and that is it.
He may spent the rest of the afternoon at the window being miserable, unhappy and depressed because he has deemed all the fun, nice stuff he has in the house as worthless and boring. This is precisely how so many people control our their responses to the world and often to their jobs, their spouses and their life in general. In fact, one of the most harmful causes of distress and despair is judging ourselves by others and other by ourselves.
The moment that we break this absurd and self-defeating habit, our world immediately brightens and becomes happier.
Recall, that it the "I" of us that tells the brains how to respond to the world. When we deem our day lousy, that's what it will be no less than when we deem the rose bush a thorn bush.
Remember no matter how rich or poor you are, you are always in the center between those who have more and those who have less; those who are far better off than you and far worse off. That's the nature of physical life and this is why both the modern and ancient sages tell us to live in the eternal now. But also know that how happy or unhappy your "now" is, is, like the child who wants to go play in the rain, you can make your reality as positive or negative as you deem it to be.
This is difficult for some people to accept because they find some kind of payload in being the victim in their circumstances. For such individuals, they seem to be forever in the moods of despair, or anger or some other downer that create blinders for them that keep them from seeing the beauty and joys in life. In fact, they are the kind of folks who are always going to be happy when this or that happens or the get this or that but of course they never are. Happiness arrives from the inside, just as love does.
We are all creating and recreating our worlds all the time. In fact, the world out there is a mere projection of the world within.
I always like to discuss my articles with my wife and get her opinion as I greatly respect it. After reading the above I asked my wife what she thought about the writing. She said, "I enjoyed it and you make some very good points. However, I think while you are right in the mental processes, I know from my own experience a much less complex way of getting rid of unhappiness, depression and all the rest."
I wanted to know exactly what that was.
She said, "Simply do something nice for someone else and you will immediately feel better about yourself and your world."
I nodded because I knew that she was right.
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