The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Saturday, July 29, 2017
Brain / Mind ... Health / Nutrition ... Personal Reflections ...

Unlike many people who live in my vicinity, I’ve never been through professional psychotherapy. This is not to say that I wouldn’t possibly benefit from it (and some people say that I probably need it!). But I’ve managed to get by and keep on progressing through most of my life without needing to sit down and hash things out over and over again with a shrink. I have my moods and my fears and anxieties, and I’m sure that I’ve missed some opportunities in life because of an unnecessarily negative attitude on my part. But overall, I’m just not all that unhappy (not yet, anyway).

Furthermore, therapy is rather expensive. Yes, I know that many people manage to use their health insurance to pay for at least some part of their shrink-fees, but I don’t want to get involved with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy involved with such a ploy unless I’m really in bad shape. Another turn off — just how to you find a shrink that you can relate to and who can relate to you? I’ve known a handful of therapists in my life, and there are perhaps one or two I could imagine working with. But as to the others, ughhhh.

Given that I don’t suffer from chronic depression and that I’m not harmfully bi-polar (hey, I have my moods, but . . .); and given that I’ve managed to hold a professional job with the same employer for the past 16 years; and further still, that I’m not abusing anything intoxicating or mind-blowing . . . given that I pay my taxes and stay out of trouble . . . well OK, all of that still doesn’t mean that I’m a totally sane and healthy individual. But as to whether any particular therapist could improve things for me . . . well, there’s an old saying, i.e. “there’s nothing wrong with my life that a million dollars or two couldn’t fix”.

Lots of money is good (and I wish that I had it!), but perhaps the better thing would be a higher level of affirmation and appreciation by the people around me regarding my abilities and accomplishments. That might be the ticket. I.e. some ego gratification — make me seem important, right up there with Mr. Trump!! Or better still, a few more good, loyal and understanding friends who share a lot in common with me. It’s hard to have too many of them, and too many people don’t have enough. I can’t say that ‘my cup overfloweth’ with close friends at present, although I appreciate the ones that I do have. All I’m saying is that even the best therapist can’t make up for the real deficiencies that we all suffer with regard to the building blocks of a satisfying life. A therapist might help you adapt to bad stuff . . . but as to finding happiness, I think that we are all ultimately on our own.

There is an interesting idea right now in the psychological field regarding happiness. All of us (well, almost all) have some moments of joy and happiness and fulfillment in our lives, however temporary and fleeting. The new theory says that people who remain psychologically healthy are those who are most grateful for the good things that did come their way in the past (and maybe still continue in the present). I.e., adjusted people have an “attitude of gratitude”. People who can “count their blessings” generally seem to feel better and have better mental health overall, even when times are tough. You can find various articles on the importance of gratitude to mental health.

This brings up a question for me. I.e., what is the difference between the “attitude of gratitude” and “nostalgia”, i.e. the longing for a present that would be a lot like what the past seemed to be? To be grateful about life often means looking back into the past; not everyone always lives a life that they can be grateful for. There is a lot of pain and anxiety and degradation out there – sometimes just for short periods, sometimes for way too long.

I hang out with a bunch of Zen Buddhists (I really enjoy the sharing of quiet meditation), and I have heard all of their spiel about ending suffering and living in the moment. But to be honest, it is just as easy to do this as it is for Christians to follow Christ in loving everyone and always turning the cheek. In other words, it ain’t easy at all! I agree that we should try to be grateful just to be alive, and there are moments when that works. But let’s be honest, sometimes life is just not nice. And in those moments, it can be comforting for some people (myself included) to look back to “better days”. And maybe even be grateful for them!

I guess that nostalgia can be a part of an attitude of gratitude, and it might even bring hope that someday the good times might return. But for some people, nostalgia is more cynical; it is a form of depression, a rejection that anything good can happen anymore. To be honest, it’s a lot easier to have the positive form of nostalgia when things are still going OK in your life than it is when things aren’t so good. When bad times come, thinking about a better past can just make the present seem even more depressing; i.e. the good times are really over for good (recall the Merle Haggard song about that).

This kind-of hints that the whole “attitude of gratitude” thing is more of a measuring tool that a fix-it kit for the blues. When you’re feeling grateful, it’s probably because you ain’t suffering (or whatever suffering you do have isn’t getting the best of you). When you don’t feel grateful, it usually means that things are going off the rails. Being grateful and counting your blessings is not a bad idea; sometimes it can help you put your life into context, help you get over something that you may be making too much out of. But when things get seriously bad, then all you have is nostalgia, and even that seems to turn against you. Maybe a shrink can find other things to help you feel better and get by somehow. In the end, however, the best thing is to have friends and loved ones around to support you and do things with you. Actually, psychotherapy has a name for this – i.e. “behavioral activation”.

So even if I have some doubts about the power of positive thinking, I’m still going to try to end this discussion on a positive note. I’ve had a lot of good things and good people happen to me in the past. Some of them are still here in the present. And maybe there will be some more in the future. If you can push all the bad vibes aside for a second, being alive and being conscious is still a privilege. And hey, even Merle Haggard ends his song with the notion that “the good times ain’t over for good”.

Have a great day!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:08 pm      

  1. Jim, There are few things I totally agree with you on and your point of having an “attitude of gratitude” is one. I too have never had any kind of REAL professional psychotherapy. I have sat and talked with a psychiatrist about some other individual(s) in my life once or twice.

    I regret to say I found it a waste of time. One of the times specifically stays in my mind: Where the concept of “crying” over situations in life seemed to be a breakthrough of some sort. A breakthrough to what never was explained. And I could not help myself but ask the therapist what was the point of “crying” about the situation as, when it got right down to it, “crying” changed nothing at all. After leaving the office, everything went back to the way it had been, “crying” or not. Not one thing changed.

    I could not believe people who were supposed to be trained in helping individuals navigate through life could be so (well, I want to say “dimwitted”) but perhaps “unaware of the real life of others” is more appropriate.

    And your point of “not being all that unhappy” is one that is well taken. I tend to think that those who are truly “unhappy” have some sort of mental illness. Here let me emphasize that I use the term “mental illness” in a respectful sense where it can be as real as physical illness. The problem is with mental illness that most of the time few professional people who are supposed to be knowledgeable in such illness have no clue how to “fix” or at least alleviate them. “Talking” seems to be the choice method of help. But even Jung and Freud admitted that ONLY intelligent people and those inclined to “like” “talking” were helped, which left out a big bunch of people.

    Thus, it makes much sense to me to be, as you say, “just not all that unhappy”. I have found in my life that when I’m very unhappy I’ve almost always had a central core within me that knew that even some little part of me was happy and life would change when this “unhappy” part of it was over; the reverse also has held for me: When I’ve been happy, I’ve always had a central core that knew unhappiness was probably right around the corner.

    As to how one finds the right therapist: That in itself is probably expensive as, from what I’ve read, a person has to simply “go here and there”, meeting this or that therapist (of course, paying them), seeing how one relates to that person; and then finally when one finds a person one relates to, choosing that one for therapy. Thus is seems any kind of extended therapy is for the rich; poor people need not apply.

    I might say also that ego gratification, having others acknowledge one’s abilities and accomplishments, can be as addictive and unhealthy as any other kind of thing that can be addictive and unhealthy. (An example might be, with all due respect, our current president who seems to need constant ego gratification and it’s never enough whatever he gets. Addiction is addiction.

    It would seem to me that “ego gratification” must come from within oneself. That is, one must acknowledge the truth of what one does well, what one does just OK, and what one misses the boat on. That way the individual can appreciate one’s own accomplishments and correct the mistakes and have a kind of “do over”; thus improving over time and learning the joy and pleasure of that growth as an individual.

    As to getting “approval” from friends: I’m not sure about that. While it’s nice to have someone you respect and appreciate and maybe even love or consider a friend approve of something one does, still if the approval does not come from the inside of the person him/herself; that approval is somewhat empty, I tend to think.

    And as to happiness, which it seems everybody is pursuing, I find it almost impossible to achieve. True, there have been times when I have been happy; but I tend to think that “content” is a better word to try to achieve. If one finds approval within oneself, it brings a kind of contentment that is akin to happiness but maybe more realistic. Happiness seems an either/or kind of thing to me; there’s no room for unhappiness in happiness. But in “contentment” it is possible to appreciate the mixture of knowing that happiness itself is fleeting and unhappiness too is also fleeting; both may last longer or shorter periods of time; yet “contentment” can last through long periods of time and yet encompass both the “happness” and “unhappiness” of life.

    You have an excellent question in what is the difference between “the attitude of gratitude” and nostalgia? I tend to agree with you that it’s a desire to return to the “old days” when it was a “ain’t life grand” type of situation. Unfortunately, that “ain’t life grand” never lasted very long.

    I agree with your points about the “attitude of gratitude”; but I’d also like to add that sometimes it can be a kind of schadenfreude where one is happy because of the unhappiness of others. Somehow or other that has never appealed to me. Rather, other people’s problems can make me unhappy, to say the least and to want to run out to help them.

    I cannot say that I agree with what you indicate is psychology’s latest “new thing” (and wouldn’t you know they have a fancy name for it too “behavioral activaton” [good grief, I say]): Have friends to help make one happy and “talk thing thru with them”. Seldom with either others or myself have I found a situation where someone else, specifically a loving friend could do more than not be one to throw rocks at a sinking person. Without the interior approval and ego gratification that comes from within, there simply is no happiness, is how I see it. I find that to be happy I must look at myself, see what mistakes I’m making, correct them. Just having another person say, “you’re doing a good job” is not enough. If nobody can give me any “approval” and I find that I’m doing my best in a good way, then I must find my own sense of gratification within myself. That is sometimes very difficult; but if one is honest, one can find a way to that

    I might add here before I end this that one’s own approval within oneself is very far from “the power of positive thinking”, which seems to me simplistic and shallow. One’s own interior approval is much different; it’s approval coming from deep within one that one that one is doing the right thing and the best that one can do in difficult situations that may have no easy answers.

    So, even tho it may seem I am disagreeing with you here, I am hoping you are reading this as saying the same thing you are in different words. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 31, 2017 @ 10:20 am

  2. Most of us could use some counseling,although the people who need it the most might be the less likely to recognize it. I had a nice couple of friends at my former church in Geneva IL would sought each other out because they were both very receptive to counseling.

    I have been working in NJ for almost two months now. My commute is horrible. If .I am ever able to sell my home in Illinois, I am thinking about living in Nutley. I still haven’t visited the UU Monclaire Church, but plan to do so soon. How about if get totegther afterwards for a lunch and walk around town?

    Comment by Zreebs — August 12, 2017 @ 8:30 pm

  3. By the way, my comment in no way was intended to suggest that you need counseling!

    Comment by Zreebs — August 15, 2017 @ 10:22 am

  4. Steve, no problem. I probably do need counseling! If only there were some good counselors out there.
    Whatever, see you soon. Sounds like you’re getting the real royal New Jersey treatment! Hang in there.

    Comment by Jim G — August 16, 2017 @ 4:39 pm

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