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Personal growth: Moods, perceptions, and problem-solving May 24, 2017

Posted by Dennis Mellersh in Overcoming Fear.
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By Dennis Mellersh

Most of us have been in the paradoxical situation in which a nagging problem that has been causing us misery and anxiety yesterday, or for a number of yesterdays, does not seem so worrisome today.

This, despite the fact that our circumstances today are identical to our circumstances yesterday.

Our problem or worrisome situation, has not gone away, but somehow our mood or our attitude to the problem seems more optimistic, so our misery and anxiety about the problem has largely gone away.

In a lighter mood

We don’t have an immediate solution to the problem, but we are now in a lighter mood, even perhaps a happy mood in which we can see that there are possibilities of solving the problem.

So clearly then, our happiness, or mood, does not depend on our circumstances.

So, wouldn’t it be great if we could, no matter what our circumstances might be, to be able to simply command our brain and our “anxiety centre” to switch to a happy, positive, “I can handle this” mode.

But alas, no such instant-acting brain-switch exists. Or, at least I haven’t found one yet.

Moods change perception

However, as Dr. Richard Carlson notes, “Circumstances are always neutral. If they were the cause of our problems, they would always affect us in the same way, which, of course, they don’t. It’s our thinking and perceptions about our circumstances that brings life to them.”

The perception of our problems is therefore mood-related.

So, although we need to work toward solutions to reality-based problems, in order to be better able to solve them, we need to realize that “feeling good comes first. Solving the problem comes later.”

Yes, but aside from studying Buddhism for ten years, how do we do that?

A possible solution

Richard Carlson takes an entire book (1) to fully explain all the details of how to accomplish this, but here’s one of the solutions he offers that we can start working on right now.

We can make an effort to move our focus away from the problem, because, as Carlson notes, “If circumstances seem hopeless, dwelling on them won’t help.”

Not focusing on the problem takes away the energy the problem needs to grow in our minds; with the problem growing in our minds it makes the problem seem worse.

“We do this not to avoid facing the problems but to make room for solutions to grow,” Carlson says.

(1) Dr. Richard Carlson, You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles Your Therapist Never Told You, New World Library, Novato, California, 1997