A fellow therapist recommended Richard Carlson’s book, You Can Feel Good Again: Commonsense Strategies For Releasing Unhappiness and Changing Your Life. I had asked her because she is a sex therapist and a couple I was seeing had a particular sexual issue.
They did not want to change therapists, so I searched out the best possible advice that I was aware of.
Instead of some complicated, family-of-origin work, which is what I expected, she recommended a book which falls into the Cognitive Behavioral approach. Now, here is the interesting part, before I get into the details of this book.
The book is really targeted at combating depression and I told a client to read it whose depression didn’t seem to want to leave her. She read it and perkily texted me that she was doing fine and happy. So, whatever negatives I will say about this book — and there was really only one — I recommend it. I recommend it for –obsessive thoughts –depression –self-punishing thoughts –low self-esteem
The author’s premise is that we control our thoughts.
Thus, any negative thoughts we have are of our own invention and ought to have zero power over us. That makes complete sense to me and is in line with my work (which says that feelings are within our control because they begin with thoughts.
On the other hand one of his points is that if you happen to be depressed, don’t think because that will make things worse.
A wonderful point is that we are all capable of healthy thinking. In fact, before being messed up by adults, children have a fine attitude toward themselves.
We are actually taught how to think poorly of ourselves. So our job is to return to the healthy functioning we were born with. He adjures us to search for the good feelings, the good thoughts, the good memories and not dwell on that which hurts.
“You don’t find light by studying the dark” (p. 39).
Nice, huh? This is his way of blasting a method of therapy that focuses on the problem instead of getting away from it. “You can dismiss any thoughts you want to dismiss,” he proclaims on p. 44.
How can we answer our deepest questions? – Get the mind quiet, he says, and our wisdom will answer our question provided we “dismiss all negative thoughts surrounding the issue,” (p. 51).
Later on, he sounds like a meditator. He says: “Your wisdom, or common sense, isn’t tied exclusively to your intellect; it comes from a different place — a place of quiet in your consciousness.” (p. 145)
Carlson has answers for why people don’t necessarily feel better after having a positive thought. One answer is that we might not notice, but right after that positive thought, we will often have a skeptical thought dismissing the positive one.
The second reason is that we “accumulate negativity in your mind throughout the day” so what makes for a bad attitude overall is that accumulation. (p. 89)
Carlson believes that all of us, depressed or regular people, have ups and downs in our moods. The problem is that depressed people focus on the downs and start thinking about what got them there. (p. 100)
I’m going to quote directly from p. 131:
“Imagine, for a moment, a five-year-old child who tells you about the ‘bad guy’ who lives behind his books on his bookshelf. Would you have him explain in great detail, over and over again, what the bad guy looks like, what kinds of things he does, and why he’s so scary? Would you ask the child these questions every week, for years and years? Of course not. The reason you wouldn’t is because you would be making the child’s imagination seem real to him. You would be encouraging him to be frightened by his own thoughts! It would be far more useful to the child if you were to help him see that there is no need to fear his own thoughts.”
On p. 134, Carlson makes the distinction between genuine sadness and unhappiness. “Genuine sadness is a natural part of life.” It comes, as we know from loss. However, once we start to worry and brood over the loss, we’ve stepped over a boundary and “your genuine sadness transforms itself into a negative state of mind.” That’s unhealthy.
Not only that, “the dynamic of unhappiness usually leads to self-pity and hopelessness.”
So, for example, let’s say there is a bad situation happening. “One direction, the ‘high road,’ leads to growth and gratitude, the other, the ‘low road,’ leads straight to the emotional dump.” It is best, if you should have the thought, “Why me?” that you dismiss it.
In discussing grief, he points out that even during grieving, one can have good moments. “It’s silly to believe that only your negative feelings are your ‘real’ feelings.” (p. 143)
Even terminal illness — or perhaps especially terminal illness — should make us learn this advice. He quotes Ram Dass, who was working with a woman that was dying. He said, “‘Do you think it would be possible to spend less time dying and more time living?'” (p. 148)
Because it is very difficult to get rid of negativity, the best way to do it is to focus on gratitude. Thinking of positive is always easier than not thinking of negative. “Once you recognize gratitude as a force in your life, it will begin to permeate your entire existence.” (p. 175)
So what didn’t I like about this book?
Only one thing: It seemed redundant. Then again, maybe people need to hear this message A LOT before they believe it. Don’t know. But it is definitely worth consideration.