Monday, August 17, 2015

Mount TBR #25

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

A Guide to Personal Happiness – Albert Ellis and Irving Becker

Psychologists Ellis and Beck set up the ABC model of what drives us to and how to deal with anger, anxiety, and depression. The A is the activating circumstance – when the real world hassles us with work, social or personal obligations. The C is the consequence – anger, upset, distress, sadness, etc. We blame C on A, conveniently omitting B, our beliefs, though what we think about A makes us feel whatever C is. Hamlet said, “Nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Ellis and Beck urge us to accept that life is very difficult and nothing worth having is easy to obtain so we had better change our ways of thinking in order to deal rationally with unwanted unforeseen circumstances.

They advocate disputing our anxious beliefs intellectually. We had better ask ourselves whether our expectations of ourselves, others, and the world are really logical and reasonable. They want us to stop damning ourselves, blaming others, stop shoulding and musting and just accept the world and its relentless inevitabilities. Note how they use “had better,” not “should” “must” and “have to.” Basically, we’d better expect problems like work hassles, personal meanness, lust, stupidity, and fallout due to the overconfidence of ninnies. Problems are the default. They seem to echo Van Morrrison  who sang, “You know I don't worry about a thing because Nothing's gonna turn out right.”

Ellis and Becker see anger as a result of having the wrong ideas about life. I think this is their nice way of saying “stupidity.” Again, they promote attacking problems intellectually. Surprisingly, though, they admit that some people just don’t have the brainpower to dispute their own irrational beliefs and that others may be able but just don’t for one reason or another. For these people – like me – they suggest writing slogans on 3 x 5 cards (this book was released in 1983, when stationery stores to buy such things used to exist). For instance:

"Man can alter his life by altering his thinking."--William James

"A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things."--Eleanor Roosevelt

“It is the view which the mind takes of a thing which creates the sorrow that arises from it.” – Anthony Trollope, The Small House at Allington

"The individual is taught that there is nothing that he as a total person is to feel ashamed of or self-hating for."--Albert Ellis, Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy Revised

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances."--Victor E. Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, author the unforgettable Holocaust memoir Man's Search for Meaning

I found A Guide to Personal Happiness very provocative, especially the part about not kicking about things that are never going to change, no matter how much I boil about them. They urge constant practice to foster the ability to logically dispute irrational beliefs. To my mind, it calls for super-human discipline. Who among us can habitually control and master our own thoughts, fears, and hopes? Especially when those around us are losing their heads?

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