Column: The Fine Art of Misery

By: Kristin L. Roush, Ph. D., Psychology, Guest Columnist

The first five installments of “The Fine Art of Misery,” appeared on Dr. Roush’s blog Topics five through ten will appear on her blog following publication in the CNM Chronicle.

This series is intended to be a spoof, a lighthearted invitation to look at how we sometimes create our own misery. It is by no means intended to be disrespectful or mini­mizing of anyone’s true pain, par­ticularly regarding depression and anxiety.

Stinking Thinking: The Sweet Smell of Success

Any serious discussion of the fine art of misery must begin with the importance of “getting your head in the game.” In other words, much of your mood and even your personality traits can be impacted by how you think and believe.

Your thoughts, beliefs, atti­tudes, and interpretations form the foundation for how you will feel and then behave in life. It is essential to sprinkle negativity and cynicism throughout your core beliefs in order to sustain a miserable life.

Where Do Thoughts and Beliefs Come From?

Look no further than the people who raised you. They had a pretty good opportunity to indoctrinate you into a belief system full of criticism, negativ­ity, cynicism and suspicion.

Then there is the popular culture, your teachers and even some clergy who might have contributed to a life outlook full of fear, prejudices, self-doubt, and pessimism.

This was a good beginning, but you need to maintain that strong foundation with daily practice.`

Adulthood: Misery Auto Pilot

This is great news. Hopefully, you arrived at the threshold of adulthood with plenty of childhood baggage from your wounded parents and a dysfunctional culture.

You will find that as you get older, the carefree openness of childhood will slowly give way to the insipient onset of greater and greater fear with each year that passes.

Your foundational beliefs and attitudes are kept alive daily with your “automatic thoughts” – those cynical assumptions and interpretations that are like tapes running in your head 24/7.

Congratulations! Your misery is now on auto-pilot. It is your default way of experiencing life, love, relationships, yourself and your future.

Don’t mess with this. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You will most likely stay in this pattern for the rest of your life unless one of two things happen: 1) you decide you don’t want to be negative anymore or 2) you have a near-death experience.

Near-Death Experience?

Yes, people who have had a true near-death experience often make a complete 180 degree turn in their approach to life. They have experienced some kind of mystical insight that offers transcendent per­spective, rendering their pre­viously miserable lives totally obliterated.

They become joyful, opti­mistic, generous, and at peace. These poor souls are often pro­pelled into lives of lighthearted joy. They easily forgive others from their past. They gleefully greet each day with enthusiasm. They can be quite annoying to be around.

There is often a spiritual basis for their new-found happi­ness. Finally understanding life from the grand perspective of the vast Universe can seriously harsh your misery buzz. Write this down: “Don’t have a near-death experience.”

Your Thoughts, Beliefs, and Behaviors: Totally in Your Control

I hate to break it to you, but this dirty little secret is true. Yes, you can control your thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. You could choose to completely re-write your core negative atti­tudes and beliefs.

It turns out, you don’t have to be a victim of your autobiog­raphy. Who knew? In fact, your ability to change your thoughts and beliefs is probably the great­est power and the greatest free­dom you will ever enjoy during your lifetime.

As an adult, you can choose an entirely new positive belief system, complete with new values and optimistic attitudes. But why start now? Negative auto-pilot is so easy and so famil­iar and so trendy.

“We can curse the rose bush because it has thorns, or we can rejoice that the thorn bush has roses.”

With which attitude do you choose to greet the morning? I say, learn how to find thorns in every situation.

Be the first to recognize the “down” side to any new idea. Always play the devil’s advocate role. Every family and work­place needs someone to take on this role. Step up and be the pessimist we all need to bring us back down to earth.

Besides, who doesn’t love to be around pessimistic naysay­ers? And, it makes you feel supe­rior when you authoritatively point out the problem to those naïve optimists in your midst. Quash that enthusiasm!

A life of misery demands a steady supply of fundamen­tally cynical beliefs, pessimistic attitudes and negative auto­matic thoughts. Choose misery. Remember, it is totally up to you.

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