Everyone has heard of the philosophy behind “the glass half full” versus “the glass half empty”. A single glass of water, half-filled, not altered, and contents not added to nor subtracted from, can be perceived by individuals differently. Some may see the glass as half empty, while other see the glass as half full. How the glass is accepted determines whether or not the individual’s way of thinking is optimistic or pessimistic. Perception leads to thought which leads to feelings and emotions. However, does this necessarily mean that an optimistic person is happier and a pessimistic person is less happy?
The philosopher Plato posited that “science is nothing but perception”. How one perceives something makes it what it is. In a situation, there are many causes and effects. Some people, depending on how the components of the situation influence the person, only see the negative side of a situation but fail to see the positives because the negative components emotionally outweigh the positive components. It appears that negativity has more of an emotional pull on individuals than positivity. Just turn on any news station and you will hear of recent tragedies rather than celebratory events around your community. Obviously, if an individual only dwells on the negative components of a situation, then negativity is related to every dynamic of the situation, which leads to unfavorable feelings, unpleasant moods, and pessimistic outlooks on everything else. However, if a person is able to stop him or herself from continuing on this “negative” path and view the situation in its entirety, it is possible to see the positives even in a challenging situation and, thus, lead to an overall better mood and optimistic outlook on the situation itself and everything else for that matter.
Many therapists in my office follow the theoretical model of CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In a nutshell, CBT presents that the way you think determines the way you feel. If we take a “challenging” event… let’s say a car accident, and demonstrate a positive outlook versus a negative outlook, the positive thinking person may view the car accident with thoughts that include “Thank goodness I’m not hurt. That could have been a lot worse.” and go about their day with more appreciation for life. Nonetheless, the negative thinking person may view the incident with thoughts that include “I can’t believe this happened! This is going to cost me a fortune. My insurance rate is going to increase. I have to spend money to get my car fixed. I can’t get to work,“ which may lead to feelings of guilt, then blame, on self and others. This particular person may then go about their day viewing everything with paranoia, anger, disappointment, etc. The positive person may feel happier and appreciative while the negative person may feel anger and resentment.
What should we do?
It is only human for a person to initially experience negative emotions in a new, challenging, or different situation. How we accept the situation, through perception and thought, will assist in how we feel about the situation and the components surrounding it and, thus, affect how we go about finding resolutions. David D. Burns states, “Every time you feel depressed about something, try to identify a corresponding negative thought you had just prior to and during the depression. Because these thoughts have actually created your bad mood, by learning to restructure them, you can change your mood.” Aligned with CBT, after all, he was a student of Aaron T. Beck, the “father of Cognitive Therapy”, Burns believed that you can “feel good” by identifying the negative thought and changing it to a less negative one. This is the whole premise of his “Feeling Good” philosophy and one that we use in our practice as well.
So, the next time something terrible happens to you, just remember that the way you think may affect the way you feel and that Walt Disney once said, “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Do you want to chat more with me about what can help YOU feel good? Make an appointment with me HERE!