Just a note before I publish this little post. The fancy struck this morning (well, by now, yesterday morning) to write a post on psychology. For my PWRP post series I try very hard to remain on topic. But for this post, while I will try to stay on one little rail of thought, I’m not going to limit myself to any rules. That is, don’t expect decent writing or really any order to this post. As for this little bit here that I’ve just written, think of it as a friendly warning of pure disorder and dull recollection.
I’ve been known to drink a few pots of coffee in one day.
Yep, not a few cups, a few pots. These days I tend to do it more out of routine than anything else. The familiar motions of making a cup of coffee, opening an old newspaper and trying to forget about what I need to do. To heck with it. I think, A moment of peace now will go a long way later.
And even if my daily routine means that I’ve lost time that could have been used to be productive, I don’t even try to eliminate those moments. Sometimes I think that I stick to it just so I can tell the story of drinking too much coffee and reading old newspapers. It’s something comfortable and set in its ways. It’s something that I do, that I always want to do. It may not be productive, it may not be healthy (though, one could argue, there are multiple benefits to drinking coffee,) but it does place me in a positive state of mind.
Recently while reading a few articles on Psychology Today, I suddenly came to the conclusion of several weeks worth of contemplation: Negativity and self-delusion can be healthy.
Allow me to explain:
I recently started rereading material on personality profiling after seeing a reference to the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator in a post of a fellow blogger. During a recent trip to the library, the post came to mind and, out of boredom and curiosity I picked up a popular book on the subject of the MBTI that I first read several years ago, Do What You Are, and reevaluated my personality type according to the MBTI (still INFP…dangit,) along with my type according to the Hartman Color Code, the Five Elements personality test found in The Face Reader, my brief self-analysis from my Rorschach inkblot test (I couldn’t bring myself to do a full analysis because the Rorschach is touchy enough without extreme bias from the tester getting in the way,) as well as several classic tests, and very quickly I realized an undeniable truth:
Self-delusion is very much in my nature. According to the five elements test, I tend to make excuses for the bad behavior of people I care about. The Meyers-Briggs informed me that when I’m in a relationship I tend to fabricate positive traits in the person I’m with, and even in the face of strong evidence I will still keep them on the pedestal I’ve created. According to the color code I tend to ignore negative traits in people and instead admire their values because of my inherent need to keep peace and avoid conflict. All other tests said generally the same thing, that I tend to view the world through rose-colored glasses, my mind remains oblivious to the potentially negative outcome of a relationship until it’s much too late, and on and on and on…
At first this revelation made me want to track down the creators of each test and give them a talking-to (which would be rather difficult with the MBTI, because the true creator of the test was Carl Jung…he died in 1961), but then apparently my passive nature made me rethink that idea. And I realized that I couldn’t deny what the tests told me, because I purposely lie to myself everyday.
In late September of last year I started a personal happiness experiment. Everyday I focus on one thing to be happy about and, as I’ve mentioned before, this significantly changes the mood of the day. When I can’t come up with anything, I settle on ‘Today is going to be a good day.” Even if I know it’s going to be stressful and hectic I say it anyway. I asked myself once ‘what exactly should one do when there is absolutely no silver lining to be seen?’
I replied to myself instantly, Well, just make one up.
I couldn’t help but wonder if I was negatively affecting my view of reality, and perhaps delaying my psychological maturation by doing this to myself. After all, if I’m viewing my relationships incorrectly, my friends incorrectly, my family incorrectly and myself incorrectly, I must be missing a lot of what other people are seeing throughout their lives.
I suppose the easy answer is yes, yes I am. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mind Over Body
The mind controls the body. This is seen everywhere from a strong emotion giving you goose bumps, to a biofeedback machine helping a patient learn how to ‘think’ away their headache and lower their blood pressure. There are even mind-over-body techniques used in cancer treatment, in a field called psychoneuroimmunology.
John Gottman (my favorite relationship psychologist) discovered a darker way that mind affects the body. Specifically, that the presence of contempt in a relationship spells out not only the end of the relationship, but also problems with the health of the person on the receiving end of the contempt. “…we can predict how many infectious illnesses that person receiving the contempt will have in the next four years. People in those kinds of relationships really live significantly less…they die earlier.” He said in an interview with 60 Minutes.
And, sort of a fun fact, multiple studies done in the 1990’s revealed a loss of hippocampal volume (8% in war veterans) in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (your hippocampus is a part of your brain that mainly handles memory storage.)
Optimism = More Likely To Pop The Red Pill
A blog post on the Psychology Today website in December brought a new spin on what looking on the bright side means when it comes to being level-headed.
Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D. executed an experiment at the University of Texas that involved polling the students to discover if the majority of individuals would decide to be happy even at the cost of being aware of the whole truth, or if they would instead decide to be completely aware of the truth, even at the cost of cheer. Long story short, Raghunathan and his research partner, Yaacov Trope, put subjects in either a bad mood or a good mood, had them read an essay on coffee that contained both positive (caffeine promotes mental alertness) and negative (caffeine can cause cancer) factoids about coffee, and then tested their memory of the essay. Turns out, individuals who felt more upbeat were more likely to remember negative effects of caffeine, while sad participants were much more likely to remember the positive facts from the essay. Raghunathan believes that this is because the sad subjects subconsciously “chose” a reality in which coffee is all good, “Because they were sad, they were inclined to repair their mood through positive knowledge – or felt too down to handle a dose of negativity.” While the happy folks proved that more upbeat feelings make us more receptive to the truth and all of its downsides. “A hierarchy emerges: First we seek happiness. Only after we’ve tipped toward contentment are we open to hard facts.”
This article surprised me because when I think pure and simple happiness I think illogical. Trusting. Endlessly peppy. A child in the middle of a war that climbs on some giant rock, holds a little fist in the air and yells “Can’t we all just get along?” The idea of happiness lending us the ability to accept more difficult facts is unheard of (or rather, was unheard of to me).
The Upside To Negativity
Honestly, fourteen hours ago when I started writing this whole shindig (yep. I have been writing and rewriting and deleting entire paragraphs in this post for the past fourteen hours straight. I was determined to write a post and I don’t mind that it’s nearing 2:30AM, I am not leaving my computer until this post is published,) the title of this post was “Making The Case For Rose-Colored Glasses”, and I was going to attempt to convince you of the upsides of a little self-delusion here and there. But, the positive side to negativity kept trying to elbow its way into my post and I just kept shoving and pushing and aiming and firing at the idea of negative thinking being helpful, when I realized that I was being too negative about negativity.
To quote a popular Eli Young Band song, “Start out depressed, everything comes as a pleasant surprise.” It seems rather obvious: If you apply for a job and have high hopes of getting it, you’ll have to deal with the intense disappointment if you’re rejected. On the other hand, if you have low expectations and end up not getting the job, you won’t have to deal with strong negative emotions. (But you’ll be that much more excited if you have low expectations and get the job anyway.)
“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” – George F. Will
A pessimist will also see things that an optimist might miss if said optimist is too busy being angry at personality tests for declaring them an optimist…Also if said optimist is making an important decision and may not be thinking as clearly as someone with a bit more doom and gloom and less smiles and sunshine. Pessimists lend a new and possibly clearer perspective.
In closing, though, we need to remember why pessimism has gotten such a bad rap. The bad news about being a pessimist and why every article on mood in every psychiatric and psychological journal and magazine and report tells us to aim for happiness. Let us look at two simple facts:
1. Happy People Live Longer! A study in the UK involving 3,800 people aged 52 to 79 has yielded results informing the world that happy people live an average of 35% longer than people who claim to be unhappy. And the happier you are, the longer you live (which means, terrifyingly enough, Barney and Spongebob are probably going to outlive all of us.)
2. Happy People Are Happier! Yep! Happy people get more serotonin, dopamine, endorphines…all of our favorite feel-good neurotransmitters that give us a natural high. Meanwhile pessimists get cytokines (blood proteins that have been linked to major depression, Alzheimer’s and cancer) and an increased risk of many a horrid disease.
Alright then, it is nearing five in the morning, and I leave you with…ah, whatever it is that I was writing and editing the past seventeen hours.
Before I leave you be I’m going tell you something that I learned five years ago from a book that a behaviorist by the name of John Watson wrote (something that I misunderstood entirely at the time, but a misunderstanding that shaped who I am), it is impossible to fully understand the outer workings of a human being unless one first comprehends the inner mechanisms. Understanding psychology is an incredible foundation for reading people at a glance. If you want to read people through body language and facial expression and you want to learn to do it right, begin with the mind and work your way out. It gives us empathy and understanding and an ability to better predict the behavior of those around us. Psychology is the science of mental life, as William James once said. And mental life is reflected on our faces.
Until I Write Again,