How Do I Become A More Glass Is Half Full Person
January 13, 2019 11:05 AM   Subscribe

I have struggled with pessimism and fixating on what is wrong most of my life. This is a byproduct of decades of anxiety and depression. I am in therapy and taking medication. What are some practical things that I can do to fix this?

I have struggled with pessimism and fixating on what is wrong most of my life. This is a byproduct of decades of anxiety and depression. I am in therapy and taking medication. What are some practical things that I can do to fix this?

I will be in a situation where a "normal" person will be enjoying things, and I all that I can think of is "this is fleeting", "what happens when this goes away", etc. I am attempting to begin a meditation practice, but my brain is so used to decades of catastrophising etc to avoid problems, but in the process, I am making myself miserable.

Has anyone else experienced this? Had success improving it?

I just want to start seeing some of the good, instead of always seeing the worst....
posted by kbbbo to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Those thoughts are choices that you make. You have to remember to make different choices. When you're thinking "This is fleeting", what might come after that is "So I'm going to make sure to enjoy it. I'm really focusing on how good this food tastes, or how much I'm laughing with my friends, and how good I feel." This will strengthen the memories that are formed. I started to do this myself after having a similar epiphany a while back and, it's nice, and I have a lot more happy memories now. When you think "Ugh, I hate this", you can try to remember to think, "Let me make sure there's nothing good about this that I'm missing", and really think it through. You will either come up with something, in which case you gain a new happy memory, or you don't, and then you can try to think about things you can do to make it better. It all comes down to remembering to be present, and think about the situation you're really in as it's really unfolding. Really experience it and think about what you like about it as well as what you don't like, instead of just what you don't like.
posted by bleep at 11:20 AM on January 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you can accept that all things are fleeting, and let go of the expectation that they should be permanent, it can be easier to be present and grateful for things happening now.

Was there ever a time when things were bad for you - when you lost what you thought you wanted - and you were alone? Didn’t you survive it? Didn’t life go on? Didn’t some good thing happen after that? Remember that. You have more resilience and capacity to adapt than you realize.

Good things happen. You can’t always control when they do. The trick is to stay open, so you notice when they’re happening and appreciate them for what they are.

You also have the capacity to make some good things happen, or to do your best to try. Just keep doing your best.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 AM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

This may sound dumb but try a private gratitude journal and commit to finding 5-7 things a week to put in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 11:26 AM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you're taking some good steps to change it and even being aware of the pessimism is the first one. Perhaps in the moments that you are feeling happy, instead of focusing on how it's an impermanent situation, practice feeling gratitude that you get to experience that moment. Look for the big and the little moments.... that a good friend is sharing it with you, that you get to eat this perfectly ripe peach, that the sun is shining, that someone is showing you kindness, that you're learning something new, that you in this moment have your health... If you focus on looking for ways you feel fortunate, over time it can really shift how you view your life and rewire your brain to look for the good instead of the bad.

A separate approach is to imagine yourself experiencing something really miserable: a broken leg, lost on a cold hike, unable to eat something nourishing, etc. Then, remember that you are, warm, no hunger. I find it puts things in perspective.

Your brain is your most powerful tool; it needs to be exercised. I think the mediation practice especially can help with this. I've been using the Waking Up app by Sam Harris and am finding it super helpful as I'm struggling with similar issues.
posted by pdxhiker at 11:28 AM on January 13, 2019

I've recently read the Untethered Soul, and have found that it's really really given me a very helpful frame of mind to notice the inner voice that says such things.

Whether or not mindfulness and spiritualness is your jam, I really encourage taking a look. The book was a gift to me and I had put it on my bookshelf for years until I finally picked it up recently, and it really really has been making things click for me.

Here's a comment a few years ago that summarizes/expands on what the Untethered Soul talks about.
And here's the book.
posted by suedehead at 11:31 AM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

The assertion ‚something is fundamentally wrong with me‘ cannot be a first step out of depression.

Counterintuitively, I‘ve found that accepting that I‘m a pessimist/realist and that that is a valid way of existing in the world has made me much more content.

I think gratitude exercises work for some people. For me, they just reinforce the idea that I‘m not grateful enough and wtf is wrong with me, especially when I‘m in a depressive episode. YMMV.
posted by The Toad at 11:38 AM on January 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I like the gratitude board in the Pacifica app, where people post stuff they're grateful for.
posted by 8603 at 11:52 AM on January 13, 2019

Take time to be thankful at the start and the end of each day. For example, each day I am thankful I am married to a wonderful, lovely person.

While we rent and are therefore not building any RE equity, I am thankful the rent is actually quite reasonable, and that we live in probably the best part of town and I can walk most places.

Trying to find things to be grateful for has helped me a lot.

On the other hand, it's important for me to not delude myself about what challenges I have -- the struggle to build up retirement savings, for example -- but the positivity at least helps me address some fairly thorny problems.
posted by JamesBay at 11:53 AM on January 13, 2019

How is your diet and exercise? Increasing exercise I find helps because it reduces the amount of available time to ruminate on negative things, along with reducing available energy to ruminate. Reducing alcohol and junk food intake can also help improve mood.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2019

So all of the above is great advice. One really general thing I've found, as someone working to effect a similar change, is that I just have to accept that not expecting the worst is going to feel weird and goofy for a little while - otherwise I won't give tools like those described by others enough of a chance to work. You know how to be pessimistic. The thought process is broken in like a pair of jeans. A new thought process will not be broken in and therefore won't be as comfortable.
posted by PMdixon at 12:08 PM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I enjoy it because is fleeting. The beautiful dance of life is this moment and everything else is mere thoughts of the past and present, or imagination. Love the moment and then let it go.

I used to feel sad looking at children, being as we are all doomed to die, until I saw the cosmic big picture - what we really are are our actions and the love we embed in each other, which is in a sense immortal. The love I share with my son lights the light, it's the love he will give his child, and so forth.

Cultivate love (Metta meditation).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:50 PM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thirding gratitude. A simple thank-you expressed in your mind. Verbal thank-you's. A prayer at night. I adhere to no religion and do not believe in a supreme being. I do say a prayer each night and during the day when it strikes me. Often as I am walking into my work building. A thank-you god (universe) for my life and my children and my health and all of the wonderful things in my life kind of thing. Noticing and being grateful for all of the good that is in my life.

Mental narratives are the way the mind likes to stay irritated or fearful. It isn't reality. "this is fleeting" is a mental narrative and an illusion. Of course every moment is fleeting, and it's neither good or bad. It just is. Every moment is now. Every thought is originated in the now. Where else can it be?

I have struggled with pessimism and fixating on what is wrong most of my life. This is a byproduct of decades of anxiety and depression.

I think pessimism is habit and learned. The same with anxiety. It's a mind habit of thinking too much and thinking about the future. Choose to be present rather than to be trapped in a mental thought form. Ego consists primarily of thought. When you derive your sense of self from thoughts you are going to suffer. You believe the thoughts that your mind generates -- (my anxiety, my pessimism, my unhappy life, etc.) . You might think/believe your life is awful and say "that's how it is" but it is an illusion.

A pessimistic person may look out the window and see that it's raining and think, "Oh great. This awful weather is terrible and ruins my day. Somewhere else is nice and sunny but it isn't here". An optimistic person might say: "Oh it's raining. It is good for the animals and grass and flowers." A person who lives in the now and who doesn't identify with their thoughts might observe: "There is water falling from the sky. There are clouds." You don't have to tell yourself that there is water and clouds. Just see it. No interpretation needed.

There is no need for a formal meditation practice although it can be nice. There are many opportunities throughout the day to be still (still in your mind) -- In your car. At work at your desk. In line at the grocery store. Breathe and bring awareness to your breath. You are in the moment. You are awareness. When a thought comes in, don't judge it. Let it come and let it go and if you can't let it go, let it be without interpretation. You are neutral. You might have a moment of wonder when looking at the water falling from the sky. A moment of gratitude.

Practical tips: 1. Gratitude. 2. Don't take your thoughts so seriously. 3. Try not to put an interpretation on everything. Just see it. 4. Experience a situation without the baggage of complaining. Pretty soon your mind will be neutral and then it will be alive with the is-ness of the moment. 5. Become aware of the stillness in which everything happens. You realize that you are it -- the stillness. The world is then no longer a problem. Whatever you told yourself about "your life", is no longer a problem. Be still. No need to react to thoughts. A wise man once said: Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.
posted by loveandhappiness at 12:52 PM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to be like a satire of a pessimist, I’m not that way anymore, and I’ve been trying to figure out what happened so I can say something useful.
I used to identify with the character Father Time in Jude the Obscure, who is a child who is shown pretty flowers and says all he can think about is how they’ll be dead in a few days. I also felt that I truly understood the bleakness of the universe in a way others did not (I hesitate to admit this because it sounds ludicrous to me now - please be kind). I suffered through years and years of this thinking. It got a lot better when my depression got better (through somatic experiencing). So it may have been just a result of the depression and not fixable as a separate thing.
I tried the gratitude journal thing and found it only slightly helpful, but I was never able to stick with it for long.
I’m afraid that what helped the most was getting cancer, and I don’t say that as a bullshit recommendation to count your blessings, but in an effort to be truthful about my own experience. Now I’m just profoundly grateful in a very genuine way rather than trying to force it. I mean, sometimes I cry looking at trees because they’re so beautiful and I feel so lucky to be on earth. But I can’t take credit (or blame) for getting to that point. It feels like an organic change.
So maybe what I’m saying here is that there’s a good chance you can’t make this happen, but that it will happen gradually as you get better and your life changes. As of today, I’m also wondering if aging feeds into my own improvement. The New York Times just published a piece on the joys of being a woman in your 70s (by Mary Phipher) that reflects my experience with this (though I’m just 60), but if I’d read it when I was depressed, it would have angered the shit out of me, since it says happiness is a choice. I don’t think that’s true.
Anyway, maybe my experience can at least reassure you that this can get better.
posted by FencingGal at 1:03 PM on January 13, 2019 [4 favorites]

I read this in a book by a Dutch writer of strange short stories. Paraphrasing from memory, and translating from Dutch, and for what it's worth:

Imagine that you're walking down a road. And let's assume that on that road, you'd see a pile of horseshit. Now imagine that somehow, you'd get the crazy idea to stick a big piece of horse dung into your mouth and bite down on it as hard a you could.
Wouldn't that be perfectly awful? Wouldn't you be longing, with all your might, to be rid of all the nasty stuff between your teeth and in all the nooks and crannies of your mouth? Wouldn't that, in fact, seem like an unattainable, glorious and ideal state of being for the next few hours, until you had managed it?
Well. That seemingly unattainable, gloriously free-of-horseshit-between-your-teeth state of being is exactly the one in which you now already find yourself. Isn't that something to feel at least a little bit good about?

posted by Too-Ticky at 2:22 PM on January 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'll preface this by admitting that some of my thought processes are bizarre even to people close to me, and therefore this might sound absolutely bizarre to you. If so, don't worry: I'm probably just weird. But!

+1 to everyone saying, "Imagine it worse."

People tell me I'm extremely pessimistic and cynical. But I'm actually a very happy person, because just about anything that happens is a pleasant surprise.

My parents grew up in the second world (remember that?) and one of my uncles got volunteered to build a new settlement in the kind of nowhere you reach by riding a train for a week until you get to the end of the tracks, then riding a bus for a couple of days until you get to the end of the road, then I think walking next to a mule for the last bit. (To be fair, they built more road later, so it got a little better.) So I'm like, "I might have to move to Illinois? Could be worse, I guess."

I wouldn't exactly call it "gratitude," more like resetting the zero on your misery-meter.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 3:18 PM on January 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

Catastrophize until your pessimism becomes absurdly unrealistic.

You are eating a cookie. Your mental filter gloomily informs you that it tastes like ashes in your mouth because you have to pay so much for groceries and you can probably never afford cookies again at the rate things are going. :( In which case you are going to have to become a cookie thief. And break into the Peek Freans warehouse at night while wearing a ninja outfit and with your face blackened. And you will get caught and arrested. And in prison you will have a cellmate that wants to rape you. And you will stab them with a shiv you make out of the leg of your prison cot. At which point you will be a murderer in maximum security. And when climate change arrives you will be trapped in your cell by a flood...

Don't stop yourself from being pessimistic, hijack your pessimism into nonsense. It is a principle of judo and physics in general that it is easier to make an object in motion speed up in the same direction it is already going than it is to stop it dead and make it go in the opposite direction. So as if you were a judo artist, grab your pessimistic thought and give it a hearty shove in the direction it is already going. You'll never get another job than this one? Yep, probably, and you're going to end up living in the office store cupboard as well. This lump is maybe a tumor? Not just tumor, but a parasitic infection. You have an alien under your skin slowly growing big enough to burst out! Your boss looked at you funny and is probably mad about something? You don't know the half of it. He's about to grab you and try to choke you and accuse you of seducing his wife and alienating her affections...

You may be taking your pessimistic thoughts seriously and your optimistic thoughts as being frivolous. You can reverse that.

Basically, the worst IS going to happen. Yep. You are going to experience a lot of pain, and die. And everyone in the world is going to experience a lot of pain and die. And the whole species is going to die out. And life on earth is going to die out. And it doesn't matter at iota because you are going to die first and before you get to that pain you are going to eat a lot of mediocre food and have a lot of mediocre conversations. You will spend a very brief time on that being in pain and dying bit, in proportion to all those mediocre days. 99-point-something percent of your life will be those mediocre moments when the cookie you are eating is not enough to put you into raptures of bliss, but at least you have a cookie, and you are not starving. You can spend thousands of hours dwelling on the fact that all life on earth will be obliterated when the sun goes supernova... but you will still have this mediocre cookie and it beats having no cookie, and you are not even going to here when the sun goes supernova. Those bad times are microscopic compared to the vastness of the universe.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:24 PM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

If each experience was permanent, it would close you off from having other experiences. That would eventually get boring. If you eat cheesecake, and that's a permanent experience, you'd still only have one mouth, so then you wouldn't get to eat a burger, you'd be stuck eating cheesecake for eternity.
posted by WitchCat at 11:59 PM on January 13, 2019

Literally the only thing that has helped me with this problem is finding the right anxiety medication. You say you’re on meds already but does that reduce your anxiety? Since I found one that worked for me (Effexor), it is much MUCH easier for me to live in the moment and not catastrophize or worry excessively about future things. Therapy didn’t even come close to helping me with this compared to meds.

Mindfulness might also help. Staying grounded in the present moment is all that really matters, imo, and that’s what mindfulness is for.

Also it might be worth questioning your underlying assumption that pessimism is inherently a bad thing that must be “fixed”. It isn’t. It’s a coping skill just like optimism. Optimism isn’t necessarily better especially when people have unrealistic expectations due to excessive optimism.
posted by a strong female character at 6:26 AM on January 14, 2019

I’m afraid that what helped the most was getting cancer, and I don’t say that as a bullshit recommendation to count your blessings, but in an effort to be truthful about my own experience

I also identify with this. Experiencing a series of traumatic losses in recent years has shifted my perspective in a significant way to be grateful for the good moments I do have. But not in a way where I was consciously trying to change my perspective. (Fwiw I attempted a “gratitude journal” too, and that shit just made me feel terrible about myself for being an ungrateful jackass.)
posted by a strong female character at 6:31 AM on January 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Get outside. Go on a hike if you can because "fleeting" is not what occurs in a the woods or in a canyon or in the mountains. But even if you're urban in the U.S. you can see thing that have existed for much longer than you have.

There is so much badass stuff out there to see/hear/taste//touch/smell and it's only available for a limited time. Act now!
posted by East14thTaco at 9:33 AM on January 14, 2019

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