Thursday, April 3, 2014

Enjoy Your Life Every Day, With the Bonus of Building Your Resilience

Enjoying Life
Enjoying Life (Photo credit: cheesy42)
by Jerry Sheridan, On Resilience:

We have a friend who gave up a tenured position as a full professor, with no assurance that a comparable position would open up in his new location.

With a full professorship, the pay and benefits are quite good though not great, but it is very hard to fire you.

It takes many years of high-level performance to get a full professorship.

Nevertheless, he moved to the West Coast to be close to his family. In particular, his sister was important to him.

As it turned out, he had to make do with insecure and relatively low-paying part-time teaching positions, and to drive many miles to their locations to accumulate a viable income. It took many years for him to find a stable, full-time position.

Faced with this kind of situation, most of us would, understandably, have spent a good deal of time worrying, fretting, and complaining, and regretting. Not him. I asked him one time how he stayed so upbeat through all of this. He said, “I never let a day go by without doing something I enjoy”.

He is a master teacher. He taught the most challenging courses in his field, the ones that often result in a lot of anger on the part of the students because the content is hard to understand, and the teachers are often insensitive to the barriers that get in their way.

Nevertheless he was the only teacher in higher education we have ever known who got standing ovations at the end of at least some of his classes.

I asked him what it was about his teaching that produced such results. His answer was that he only taught in ways that allowed him to enjoy the teaching process.

So our theme in this post is that enjoying yourself regularly can improve your effectiveness, but also make your life more gratifying, and also give your resilience a boost.

In our research on resilience, those who are highly resilient tend to affirm that they often get to enjoy themselves.

Let’s suppose that you want to increase your resilience, but do not routinely enjoy something every day (or maybe even every week.) What can you do about it?

Well, our friend showed us one way. Make a serious effort to be close to someone you really care about, and who cares about you. Just having regular contact with those you love is a powerful source of joy.

There are also many mundane activities that can make a day enjoyable. If you haven’t read our previous post, take a look at it. It guides you to actions that many people have found to make them feel better when they were distressed.

We would suggest that you try applying the lessons in that post first. But, if you need more help, and are willing to commit some serious time and energy to testing out this technique,  you should take a look at the method of dealing with depression developed by Peter Lewinsohn and his colleagues.

Lewinsohn’s work focused on depression, though we think it is much more widely applicable. His view was that depressed people experience too few pleasant events, especially positive social experiences.  He believed, and went on to demonstrate, that more enjoyment leads to better mood, and less depression.

Keep in mind, we are talking about making your life better. Not many things are more important than that. You only have one life.

There is a great deal of research showing that “cognitive behavior therapy” is about as effective as medication in dealing with depression, and the best results occur when cognitive therapy is added to the use of the more traditional use of anti-depressive medication.

The core of cognitive behavioral therapy is changing the way we talk to ourselves, or, in other words “think” about distressing situations.

Lewinsohn’s approach emphasizes the importance of changing not only your thoughts or “self-talk”, but also what you actually DO. Its focus is on getting people to do more things they enjoy, to increase their experiences of “pleasant events”. More enjoyment leads to less depression.

Here is a shortened and simplified way to try increasing your “pleasant events”:
  • Think back on your own experiences, and make a list of those you enjoyed. In particular, make at least part of this a list of relatively simple things that you can fit into a day’s routine.
  • Review lists of actions that have helped others calm and sooth themselves, a list like the one we described here.
  • Pick out ones you can do regularly, and try to do at least one of them each day.
  • Keep track of your practice of daily (or nearly daily) enjoyable activities and the impact they have on your life.
  • Stick with the ones that have the calming and soothing effects you need to live a more comfortable, happier and therefore more resilient life.
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