The world of psychology is overflowing with literature on how to live a good life and be happy. Who doesn’t want to be happy? The problem is that often people look in the wrong places. For example, many people think that the road to happiness involves great achievement, in either academic performance or in their career. Other people search for happiness in trying to make sure they have plenty of money and material comfort or possessions. However, it is possible to become very successful and very rich and still be entirely unhappy.
The brain is a phenomenal problem-solving machine. It will work on problems even when you aren’t aware that this is happening. How many times have you experienced an idea popping into your mind that provides a perfect answer to a problem you have been wrestling with. Our subconscious mind constantly churns over problems. It even does this when we are asleep.
This week I found myself driving in the crowded congestion of the M6 motorway. I had a long drive ahead of me and found myself quietly fuming at the constant stopping and starting of traffic. As the minutes went by I started cursing the modern overcrowded state of our motorways. Now at that point my brain began to get tangled up in a negative snowball of thoughts. And the more it went on the more I felt annoyed and frustrated. “Why are our motorways so awful? Why are there so many more cars?
An old saying goes, “Listen carefully to how a person speaks about other people to you. This is how they will speak about you to other people." In fact, according to recent psychological research, the way a person speaks about others can also shine a light on their personality, their overall mental well-being and how others see them. (This is not about moments of justifiable criticism – it’s about how we describe other people on a regular basis).
When people become depressed they also tend to suffer with sleeplessness. For years, the standard view was that the depression caused the sleep problem. However, more recent studies suggest that the relationship works both ways – depression influences sleep problems and at the same time these sleep problems can fuel further depression. This has some important implications for treatment.
Is your glass half-empty or half-full? Many psychologists believe that your answer to this question depends on what you regularly focus on. If you routinely focus on negative things and complain about them then, no surprises here, you will be a grouch. And you will never run out of things to complain about. It is like driving through life and all of your attention is focused on the dead flies and smears on your windscreen. You miss out on the scenery.
One thing that is certain in life is that it is very uncertain!
Nobody truly knows for sure what life is going to hold, and it is this concept of life being uncertain that forms the basis of many anxiety problems – especially generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
A great analogy for uncertainty and worry is it’s like having an allergy. Someone with hay fever will have a strong reaction to even the smallest amount of pollen - likewise someone experiencing GAD will have a very strong anxious reaction to even the smallest amount of uncertainty.
At work, do you ever feel that everyone else seems to know exactly what they need to do whilst you are floundering? In the 1970’s psychological research identified a common experience that creates significant anxiety and unease, particularly in the workplace. This experience, often called the Imposter Syndrome, is where people feel that their achievements are a bit of a fluke, and that it is only a matter of time before people find them out. They feel that they are a fraud and not as competent as others around them.
Modern life can be exhausting. Trying to create greater calm is the antidote. But this antidote doesn’t happen by itself. We have to actively cultivate it.
We are all black-belt experts in busyness. Our minds have never been so busy. We get bombarded with information from our media and our focus is usually on fixed on what’s coming up or what we have to do next. Our mental chatter adds to the load. We worry about all the worst things that can happen in the future. Or we ruminate about things that have happened in the past. No wonder we are all so tired.