Excelling at the habits of highly miserable people
Have you ever read one of those Habits-of-Highly-Successful-Entrepreneurs/Athletes/Lawyers/Soccer Moms articles? I read them all. Depending on what kind of mood I’m in and who wrote it, these articles either instruct and inspire me or piss me off.
However, a friend posted one on her Facebook page a couple of days ago that is brilliant: The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People. This is a must-read for anyone with depression but who is not currently in a depression.
Among the priceless lessons I learned in my recovery from alcoholism and depression is that I can control my thoughts. You would think I would have figured that out at an early age, since I’ve always been a control freak.
But I never viewed my thinking as an activity that needed regulation, like credit default swaps. In fact, I didn’t really view my thought process as a process at all. Thinking was something that just happened all the time, like your toenails growing. You just let it happen.
And boy howdy, does it happen when you are in a depression. All my thoughts were gloomy. Everything was hopeless. The same tapes of failure, victimization and powerlessness played over and over in my head.
Then someone suggested I bone up on Buddhism and try meditation. That’s when the skies parted and my life began to change. I learned that I get to choose what I think. I must be mindful of my thoughts. When I am mired in stinking thinking, I can simply stop thinking those thoughts and think of something else.
Who would have thought?!
Apparently, the author of the article, Cloe Madanes, thought of this and poked her tongue in her cheek and gave us a roadmap and exercises for becoming highly miserable people. Here is a sample of some of the habits in her article at which I excelled.
1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss: The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear. Make it a priority in your life…
Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.
7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?
Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.
8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.
Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.
11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.
Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.
12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since…Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background?
Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.
I chuckled reading this article because this is exactly how I thought in the years when I was drinking and experiencing my worst depressions. The exercises seem silly now, but there was a time when they were instinctual. These were my thoughts. I never considered that I had the power to stop thinking these thoughts.
In my 15 years of sobriety and 7 years depression-free I have learned to stop thinking these thoughts. I am aware of them when they start. I stop them as quickly as I can.
In the words of the 1990’s pop hit by the German music group SNAP!
I’ve got the power.
Sad woman image available from Shutterstock.
Stapleton, C. (2013). Excelling at the habits of highly miserable people. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 13, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/depression/2013/11/excelling-at-the-habits-of-highly-miserable-people/