THE SEASON TO BE MERRY?
According to the TV, the newspapers, and the displays in the shops, it’s the party season. Halloween, Fireworks Night, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Xmas, New Year, it’s all ‘fun, fun, fun’. Everybody’s cheery, everybody’s having a great time. Friends are gathering. Families are merrily reuniting. Peace and joy abounds. Well, that’s the theory anyway. The reality, however, is often quite a different matter. The fact is that for lots of people, all this supposed seasonal cheerfulness and good-will is a much a fantasy as Santa Claus, Old Father Time, and the Tooth Fairy. For those who have problems in connecting emotionally with other people, for those who lead isolated lives, unfounded beliefs about everybody else getting together and having fun only serves to emphasise their own loneliness, their own despair, their own joyless existence. Even those who seem to be better connected socially are not necessarily any happier. For example, people who are struggling with over-stressed interpersonal or inter-family relationships, often find that the enforced extra contact time with their ‘loved ones’ over the holiday periods is more of a curse than a blessing.
In the world created by the TV programs, the films, and the glossy magazines, everybody is beautiful, everybody is successful, everybody is happy. When we compare this false reality with our own lives or with the lives of our friends, then it’s easy to see why people can start to feel very inadequate. We ordinary people can be lonely, we can make bad choices, we can be in crumbling relationships. Compared to the supposed perfections of the ‘in crowd celebs’, most of us fall very short. Is it any wonder that we get depressed and anxious? That’s why this supposedly ‘fun’ time of the year often only makes sad lives even sadder. This is the time of year when our supposed ‘failures’ and ‘shortcomings’ are brought even more sharply into focus. For all too many of us it’s not such a merry time at all.
However, no matter how tough life can be, no matter what the problems are, life doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. There are steps we can take to make the world seem a better place. Not necessarily all the time, but certainly for some of the time. The first thing to do is to take stock of yourself. How did life use to be? What’s it like now? What’s changed? Then think about what you would like to achieve. A word of warning – don’t try to go from zero to hero in one mighty bound. Instead, to begin with, just think about a small step that you could you take that might make a small difference. Is there something that you have been meaning to do for ages but somehow kept putting it off? Perhaps you could go for a walk in the park, listen to some of your favourite music, give yourself small treat, do somebody a favour, call that friend you are always meaning to get in touch with, clear out that cupboard.
It’s funny how we can fall into the trap of always thinking that things will always go wrong or that our efforts will always fail. Once we fall into the ‘I’m a loser’ trap it’s hard to get out. After a while, being negative about everything becomes in-built and this can stop us from even trying to make any changes in our lives. Why bother? Nothing ever goes right! Psychologists believe that this seemingly in-built, self-destructive, viewpoint on life is the result of what they call ‘Negative Automatic Thoughts’ or ‘NATs’. Here are some examples of these NATs in action. Recognise any of them?
THE ALL OR NOTHING TRAP
Event: You are dieting successfully – one day you slip up and munch some chocolate
NAT: It’s all over – this diet is ruined – I might as well give up
Positive Thinking: It’s just one mistake – I’ll just get over it and carry on losing weight
THE CRYSTAL BALL ERROR
Event: You have to take a driving test in order to get a promotion at work
NAT: I’ll fail – I know I will – If I resign right now I’ll save myself some embarrassment
Positive Thinking: I’ll practice my driving and try my luck
MIND READING MISTAKES
Event: My next door neighbour has just blanked me in the street
NAT: He doesn’t want to know me anymore – can’t blame him – I’m no good
Positive Thinking: Maybe he just didn’t see me – is he OK – I’d better ask
There are loads and loads of these NATs. Could you think of some that apply to you and your way of looking at life? So what’s the answer? Simple really. Identify that negative thought that’s holding you back right now and act as if the reverse was true. For example, suppose that you think that you could never learn to play bridge, ride a horse, sail a boat, pass an exam – act as if you can learn and take a few lessons – you might surprise yourself. You won’t succeed at all the things that you try but you definitely will succeed at some of them. Then, once you are OK at one thing, (I said OK, I didn’t say become the world champion), then you can try the next thing. Carry on like that for a while and you will be surprised at just how much you can do. Not only do, but do well enough to be confident enough to try something else – and something else – and something else. Keep this up and your life will get better and better. Keep it up for the next 12 months and I’ll bet that this time next year, for you at least, it really will be the ‘Season to be Merry’!