Thinking Yourself into Happiness

…the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn’t the world, it wasn’t the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, my cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don’t know, but it’s so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.

Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, p. 17

Thinking can be dangerous. When thoughts skew toward the negative, as is often the case for individuals who struggle with depression, they can begin to cast a shade of gray over everything – interactions with others, self-regard, future outlook. When the gray seeps into every corner of every part of people’s lives, thoughts of suicide* can arise, sometimes paradoxically, as a balm, a solution to the seemingly permanent gray, bleak cast that blots out any semblance of light. Thinking can be powerful, too. Although people can become damned good at thinking themselves out of happiness, they can also learn how to think themselves into happiness.

Cognitive therapists have demonstrated reliably that thoughts profoundly influence emotions. Thinking better can help you to feel better. You can think yourself into happiness. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Too good to be true, perhaps. I don’t disagree. I’m just as wary of quick fixes and panaceas as the next guy. Changing your thinking is a step to feeling better. It isn’t the step. But it’s something to be curious about, I think. If you’re feeling stuck in what I call the anti-Midas effect (feeling like everything you touch turns to, well, not gold), try this: Pay attention, really pay attention to what you’re thinking. Make a mental note of it: “Oh, there’s a thought.” Try to avoid getting too caught up in what that thought is saying or whether or not it’s true. Just notice it. Maybe write it down, if that’s your thing. And then ask yourself, “Is this thought helping me or harming me right now?” If it’s helping, great! If not, well, perhaps you can let it go. At least for now. You can always pick it back up later if you feel so compelled. See what happens. Notice how you feel. Begin the path toward thinking yourself into happiness.

*If you are having thoughts of suicide now, please consider getting some help. It’s just a phone call away: 1-800-SUICIDE.

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