Friday, August 24, 2012

“Living a More Satisfying Life”

(photo credit: Dave Singer)

Certain beliefs help us live a more satisfying life. Drawing upon research, University of California psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky, has listed several cognitive-behavioral strategies. Let’s just look at one of them:

  • Developing strategies for coping with stress and hardships. There is no avoiding hard times. Religious faith has been shown to help people cope, but so do the secular beliefs enshrined in axioms like “This too shall pass” and “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” The trick is that you have to believe them. (Time, Jan. 17, 2005)
Yes, believing in these axioms is “the trick.” We are all aware of the powerful connection between thinking and stress (feeling). If you think that the flower delivery-boy is really a terrorist, you will probably experience some degree of terror. Therefore, our thinking and believing are critical. However, believing something like “This too shall pass” might require more than a “trick” but rather first-rate acrobatics.

Why? Because experience tells us that some things just don’t “pass.” Death is certainly a reality and so are chronic diseases. In fact, life slams us with many serves we just can’t return.- depression, defeat, desertion and finally death. Yes, it will pass, but often, it passes in a way that leaves us grieving.

Likewise, the belief, “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” contradicts the reality of our experiences and perceptions. For the average person, maintaining such beliefs isn’t a possibility. While they might be comfortable to believe, it requires major cognitive gymnastics. These can be accomplished only with psychological cost –dissociation and the rejection of reality.

Must life then remain threatening and stressful? Although we might rationally be convinced that the delivery boy is not a terrorist, life is still serves up real terrors, some of which transcend our coping skills.

I had my own home-grown coping strategies. As a 14-year-old, I would look in the mirror, flex my now-long-departed muscles and tell myself that I was a wonderful person and could get through anything that life threw at me. And I believed the pep-talk. Consequently, it made me feel heady and gave me the courage to face the treats of the school-yard.

However, I couldn’t see the pricey payments I had signed-up to pay. For one thing, I soon began to find that I couldn’t derive the same high with the same pep-talk. I now had to advance to even more grandiose thinking, and I had to believe it. However, I wasn’t aware that these “leaps of faith” were gradually driving a wedge between me and reality. Besides, this new faith was actually in conflict with reality – a costly conflict.

I was no longer the person that I believed myself to be. The person I was projecting wasn’t the real me, and I think that everyone could sense this uncomfortable and alienating dissonance.

Since then, I have learned other “coping strategies.” The Bible has taught me that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). The Apostle Paul explained that this is actually worth celebrating! Why? Because in our weakness, our Lord stoops to our rescue and even renewal!

This belief has helped me immeasurably. Now, when confronted by stresses, fears and insecurities, I anticipate something wonderful that will emerge from them.

You might regard this as just another flight from reality. However, I’ve repeatedly been shown that this belief fully accords with reality. In my weaknesses, I’ve learned so much that has allowed me to navigate life and relationships successfully. I’ve observed how my Savior has not only brought me through decades of debilitating depression and also panic attacks, but I’ve also seen how He used the scorching flames of these afflictions to burn away the bonds of the falsehoods that had kept me captive.

Faith is powerful. However, belief (faith) requires an evidential foundation if it is to persist. My God has provided this foundation. Perhaps it wasn’t built according to my planning or timing, but it is solid, supported by a God who answers prayer and grants wisdom.

Please don’t envy me. He promises the same for all who seek Him:

  • But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 4:29)

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