It was almost certainly a book. I’d squeezed it, hefted it, held it up to the light. Naught for it, but to unwrap it. Hmm. Authentic Happiness. Marty Seligman, the book’s psychologist author, is something of a household name — well at least in my circumscribed ‘household’. He appeared on the radar many years ago for his research around something called ‘learned helplessness’ — a concept that examined the level of ‘percieved control’ we have over our lives as a contributing factor to our general mental health. In particular, the less ‘felt’ control, the more risk of developing problems, not the least of which was depression.
Like a few such researchers, living on the ‘dark side’ of that psychological coin seemed to lose its appeal for Marty; and he began the shift to positive psychology. (Kristen Neff, another example, had morphed away from self esteem study, at best, the result of comparing self to others less fortunate, to the more uplifting concept of self compassion.) My early 2000’s Christmas gift was an overview of the benefits of focussing on potential over pathology, health over illness. (And, like any good psychological opus, a questionnaire is included to see where the reader lines up.)
These past few weeks, living in the COVID zone, daily changes and challenges preoccupy our information sources. The need for truthful, accurate reporting, updating is critical to choices we must make. There is absolutely no benefit in deluded, pollyanna rhetoric, trotted out for purely political gain (feel free to read between the lines). Putting a smiley face at the end of a communication ain’t helpin’. Equally however, for the individual, mindset, perspective, attitude are figural parts of our psychological tool kit.
I’ve become increasingly aware of the tenor and tone of posts, emails, telephone conversations that now form a very large part of my communication with ‘outside world’. A choir friend sends out daily ‘alternative interpretations’: ‘stuck at home vs. safe at home’. A longtime physician acquaintance shared this animated post:
As a card-carrying cynic and extrovert, I’m not an easy sell. But the arguments for borrowing a piece of Marty’s happiness formula are compelling, crucial.
Another brick in this necessary seawall of defence against the current viral tidal wave (and its attendant pounding on our mental health — anxiety, fear, and depression in the forefront) came through a New Yorker piece this week. The article is built around the timing of Sir Isaac Newton’s incredible contributions coinciding with his two years of ‘self isolating’, as the bubonic plague resurfaced in London in the 1660’s and headed toward his then residence in Cambridge:
Newton’s home, a farm called Woolsthorpe, lay about sixty miles north of the university. Suitably distant from the nearest town, it was where, in near total solitude, he would invent calculus, create the science of motion, unravel gravity, and more. The plague created the conditions in which modern science could be created. . .
The author, unfortunately, goes on to argue that attributing his epiphanies to his retreat setting is over-simplifying, unscientific, and refutable — no shit, Sherlock. But you can bet your gravitational pull that it sure didn’t hurt! Personally, the article’s negative spin did little to undermine my growing awareness that embracing our sequestered seclusion is a ‘best’ mindset. Coincidentally a time of productive reflection and thought, isolated from, if not the worries and uncertainties, at least the (frequently self-imposed and artificial) deadlines and intrusions. This is not simply making lemonade (when we’re given lemons) or floating along in a Neverland of false hope and misinformation. This is a time to celebrate the answer to the too often asked question: ‘When will I find the time?’ Newsflash: the time is now!