Living Heroically



It is likely that depression, anxiety, and anger come from heritable personality traits that can only be ameliorated, not wholly eliminated. This means that, as a born pessimist, even though I know and use every therapeutic trick in the book about arguing against my automatic catastrophic thoughts, I still hear the voices frequently that tell me, “I am a failure” and “Life is not worth living.” I can usually turn down their volume by disputing them, but they will always be there, lurking in the background, ready to seize on any setback.

So one thing that clinical psychology needs to develop in light of the heritable stubbornness of human pathologies is a psychology of “dealing with it.” We need to tell our patients, “Look, the truth is that many days—no matter how successful we are in therapy—you will wake up feeling blue and thinking life is hopeless. Your job is not only to fight these feelings but also to live heroically: functioning well even when you are very sad.”


–Creator of “Positive Psychology” Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania
Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding
of Happiness and Well-being
Kindle Locations 887-890). Atria Books.




Embrace the Darkness



Paradoxically, to survive depression you have to give yourself over to it. You have to embrace the darkness, or enter into the darkness, or let yourself become the darkness, and try not to judge yourself for it.

You also have to try as much as possible to honor whatever small signs of progress might come as you work your way through that darkness, or as it works its way through you.

–Parker J. Palmer, Ph.D.
If Only We Would Listen
What We Could Learn About Politics, Faith, And Each Other



See also Resistance is Futile on this blog.



The Irony of Positive Thinking

Harvard's Daniel M. WegnerWhen people undertake to control their minds while they are burdened by mental loads–such as distracters, stress, or time pressure–the result [will] often be the opposite of what they intend. …

Individuals following instructions to try to make themselves happy become sad, whereas those trying to make themselves sad actually experience buoyed mood.

When people in these studies are encouraged to express their deepest thoughts and feelings in writing, they experience subsequent improvements in psychological and physical health. (See also Resistance is Futile on this blog.) Expressing oneself in this way involves relinquishing the pursuit of mental control, and so eliminates a key requirement for the production of ironic effects. After all, as suggested in other studies conducted in my lab with Julie Lane and Laura Smart, the motive to keep one’s thoughts and personal characteristics secret is strongly linked with mental control. Disclosing these things to others, or even in writing to oneself, is the first step toward abandoning what may be an overweening and futile quest to control one’s own thoughts and emotions.


When we relax the desire for the control of our minds, the seeds of our undoing may remain uncultivated, perhaps then to dry up and blow away.


The Seed of Our Undoing by Daniel M. Wegner
From Psychological Science Agenda
January/February, 1999, 10-11.




Alone in the Crowd

Herman Melville - BartlebyI just read Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street.  The first two-thirds struck me as a humorous account of an eccentric employee, told from the business owner’s point of view. (I hear many such stories in my work as an executive coach to CEOs.) My impression shifted toward the end, as the narrative darkened into a tale of thwarted compassion for a hopeless innocent. It remains in my awareness as a poignant and contemporary warning of the isolation so casually tolerated in our commercial environments. Though Bartleby’s plight was beyond the ability of the well-meaning narrator to avert,  better treatments are available today and most of the people in your office are reachable with as cheap an elixir as a smile, a lunch invitation, or a patient ear. Life ends too soon and suddenly to risk our kind communications going the way of the dead letters Bartleby sent to the flames, though they contained: “pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities.”



Read Bartleby, the Scrivener here or download the MP3 here.



Two Yous: Who is driving?

Colin WilsonI went through extreme depressions, glooms. There was one occasion on which I decided actually to commit suicide.

I’d got into this state — I was working as a lab assistant at the school, and what would happen was that I’d make tremendous efforts to push myself up to a level of optimism. I’d do it in the evenings by reading poetry, thinking, writing in my journals, then I’d go back to the school the next day and blaaahhh, right down to the bottom again. This was the feeling of The Mind Parasites — there’s something that waits until you’ve got lots of energy and just sucks you dry like a vampire. This sudden feeling that God was (more…)

Resistance is Futile

Resistance is Futile

Winston Churchill

Abraham Lincoln called it his melancholia. Winston Churchill had “black dog days.” Today, we refer to it as depression.


Charles Darwin’s depression left him “not able to do anything one day out of three,” choking on his “bitter mortification.” He despaired of the weakness of mind that ran in his family. “The ‘race is for the strong,’ ” Darwin wrote. “I shall probably do little more but be content to admire the strides others made in Science.”

Depression’s Upside
New York Times


Recently, I noticed that I was lethargic, frequently irritated, and found most thoughts of the future unappealing. At first, I was sure the circumstances were the cause. If you look closely enough at (more…)