It happens like this: Let's say I'm in a position of authority — a parent, for instance — and I bring you down. I make you feel sad or angry or sorry for yourself or whatever. Since I'm the one who's winning all the time, you'll start to think that the only way you can win is to be able to bring people down. In circumstances like this, you would quickly learn that to be a winner you need to bring people down.
"If we could read the secret history of our enemies," wrote William Wadsworth Longfellow, "we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
THE OTHER KIND
That's one form. The other form of people who bring you down are those people who are not deliberately trying to bring you down, but who bring you down because a) you love them, and b) they are miserable. Dealing with someone you love who acts against his own interests can bring you down. There may be psychological causes for this, or even brain damage that causes the person to act in a self-defeating way, but it can drive you crazy trying to save him from himself.
Either way, people who bring you down are not happy people. When you understand this, you will have some compassion for them. When someone feels good and likes what's happening in her life, she's not likely to bring other people down (except maybe by accident once in a great while). When you feel good about yourself, you don't belittle others. It is people who have trouble and misery, people who don't feel good who bring others down.
If someone feels bad about themselves, they can notice something bad about you and point it out, and they feel more equal to you, which brings them up a little. Or they are simply down or out of control and it brings you down because you love them.
It's important to be cautious in dealing with these people, but I also want you to have a degree of compassion for them. I could probably take anyone and if I put him down long enough and hard enough, he would probably eventually start doing it himself.
At the same time, be cautious of these people. What they're doing when they bring you down is very dangerous to you. It's not lightweight. Later, we'll describe a demonstration we do in our courses that illustrates what happens to you when someone brings you down. It's something to take seriously.
HOW CAN YOU TELL?
There are lots of different kinds of people who bring you down. On one extreme is the very gruff person with an obvious chip on her shoulder, and when she comes in the room, she makes no bones about the fact that she is going to put you down or invalidate your ideas. You have no doubt who those people are.
On the other extreme, you have people who are very polite and gracious. And yet, after talking with them, somehow you're aware of your faults and shortcomings, your limitations, the misery or danger of everything, etc. These people may compliment you and smile and do all the other stuff you associate with a friend, and yet somehow you feel bad after being with him or her.
Once upon a time there was a very powerful man. He was a really nice guy to a lot of people. He was a dutiful son to a very doting mother. He loved children and dogs. He was a vegetarian. He didn't smoke or drink. His chauffeurs and secretaries loved him. He came to power in a country in the depths of a horrible runaway inflation and turned it around, making his country one of the strongest economic powers in the world. He had done so well, he was Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1938. His name was Adolf Hitler.
People can be gracious, kind and thoughtful, and still bring you down. Hitler brought down millions of people and completely destroyed millions more. Someone can bring you down with a smile. It can be somewhat confusing at times to know who is bringing you down. Appearances can be deceiving. Some people, of course, you know for sure, but what about the others? You can't just say anyone who criticizes you is someone to look out for because some people can bring you down without making even the slightest criticism. Some can do it without even uttering a word!
On the other hand, people who love you and support you and make you stronger sometimes criticize you and it does you good. You might pay a racquetball coach, for example, to come onto the court and help you improve your game. What she will do is criticize you and tell you where you could be better and how you're doing things wrong. But the criticism is designed to make better at the game, not to stop you from playing. It's still a criticism; it might hurt your feelings a bit, but it makes your game better and that brings you up.
THE LITMUS TEST
The way to tell whether a person is someone who brings you down or not is to ask yourself a question the moment you disconnect from him. The moment you hang up the phone, the moment he drives off in his car, stop and ask yourself, "What was the result of my contact with him?" Do you feel inspired and more able to go on and get what you want out of life? Or do you feel doubtful now because maybe your idea is not such a good one after all? Do you feel confused? Have you been convinced your goal will take more of an effort than it's worth? Or that your chances are very small? Do you feel in a worse mood because he talked about all the bad news in the paper or his did he talk about his own personal miseries that he somehow won't do anything to solve?
If you feel less motivated, if you feel worse about yourself, if you're more aware of your faults, then regardless of how smiley and friendly that person is, he has damaged you and brought you down.
Start being aware of how you feel after you've been in contact with people. And cut some slack because we all have bad days and we're all grumpy sometimes. Try to detect who chronically or consistently brings you down. Every time you're around that person, you come down. Is there a person in your life who brings you down almost every time you interact with him? Think about that now.
HOW THEY DO IT
There are some common ways people use to bring you down. Knowing their methods will make it easier for you to both detect it and to cope with it. Understanding alone can sometimes ease or eliminate pain. But be aware there are thousands of ways to bring you down, so we won't spend a lot of time trying to get you to understand about different "personality types". We're not going to give labels like, "gruff," "whiner," "sad sack," etc., because the best way to deal with people who bring you down is to concentrate on the way you handle yourself, not them. That's not to say it's your fault. It is a simple matter of pragmatism. But we'll get into that a little later.
Right here we will give you some clues about how they do it, so you can recognize it when it's happening to you. One of the things they do is talk to you about negative things. They might tell you about some bad news they heard or read or saw on TV. Or they'll tell you about something bad that happened to someone else. They are likely to talk to you in a certain way about things. They tend to use what is known as a "pessimistic explanatory style".
Here's a breakdown of how a pessimist thinks:
1. Good things don't last. Good things are only temporary. This way of explaining things (as well as the other two below) tends to put the pessimist himself in a bad mood, and when he shares this pessimistic point of view with you, it tends to bring you down too.
2. Good things are small and unimportant and don't influence much of your life.
3. If a good thing happens to you, it is a fluke — you had nothing to do with it. You don't deserve much credit for it. The economy changed in your favor, or it was mostly luck, etc.
That's what a pessimist does with good news or when good things happen. Here's what they say and think when bad things happen:
1. It's going to last. It is a permanent change. A bad thing happens and they say, "It's going to be that way forever. It has always been bad, it will always be bad; people are never going to change, etc."
2. The negative event has far reaching consequences. It will "ruin everything." Bad stuff is perceived to be even worse than it is. Exaggeration is the name of the game. Blowing it out of proportion.
3. If a bad thing happens to you, it's your fault. And they'll make you feel responsible for it.
This breakdown of pessimistic ways of thinking and talking is from the excellent research by Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. After 25 years of ground breaking research, Seligman and his colleagues created the most effective form of psychotherapy known today — not in the opinion of the therapists themselves, but as shown by controlled experimental studies. It is called cognitive therapy. In his research, Seligman and his colleagues discovered that people learn to be optimistic or pessimistic, and that it can also be unlearned. And further, that optimistic people are happier, have better health and make more money than pessimistic people.
The people in your life who bring you down are probably pessimistic, and their ways of thinking come out when they talk to you, which can effect the way you think about events, making you more pessimistic (at least temporarily) because everyone is susceptible to suggestion to some degree. And that's not all they do.
THE SOURCE OF HAPPINESS
Out there in the future somewhere is a goal of yours. You are always headed somewhere. That's human nature (for mentally healthy people), and I'm sure it's true of you. There's something you want, some condition you are aiming for or trying to move towards in your life. You have a goal, maybe many of them. You would like to be in better shape, you would like more money or a more secure future, you'd like to have a better relationship with your mate, or maybe there is something you'd like to create, some deed you'd like to do for no other reason than it feels right.
Regardless of what you're aiming for, the point is that we're never really satisfied with where we are (for very long at least), and we're always trying to get to someplace better, and that's a wonderful part of life. Lucky stuff happens now and then, of course, and it can make you happy, but you can't count on it. The only happiness you can count on is the kind you create with your own effort. This kind of happiness comes from the process of progress.
We think we'll be happy when our goal is attained, but that's not so. A great example of that is Christmas. Christmas night, when it's all over, people often have a feeling of sadness. You got all those presents, but you're sad because having what you want doesn't really make you happy. Getting it is where all the fun is. And no matter how many times we hear that and agree with it, it almost always feels like we'll be happier when we arrive. But that's part of the game. Human nature.
The happiness that you can create comes from the process of progress. If I want to lose ten pounds and I get on the scale and see I've lost one pound, I'm not where I want to be, but I've made progress, and I'll feel pretty good about that. I'm moving in the direction I want to go. If need to save $3000 to achieve my goal of vacationing in Greece, and I'm saving a hundred dollars every week, I will feel good about it each week when I put that hundred bucks away. I'm making progress toward my goal.
We want to move toward our goals. People who bring you down do things that make progress more difficult or more painful. They'll remind you of the barriers in the way ("You're too young"), or they become the barrier ("I forbid you to go"). Or they'll try to hold you back or put your attention on what holds you back ("What about the children?").
Another way to slow your progress is to distract you: "You can do that later; come on, let's go to the show." Distraction is the hardest to fight. It is like enticing you with temptations that you yourself enjoy. Like the person who is trying to lose weight and her spouse cooks her favorite (fatty) meal. People who bring you down tend to minimize the importance of your goals, and keep bringing up other (more immediately fun) things to lure you away from your purpose, slowing your process of progress. You will experience a short term enjoyment and a long-term misery. You might not feel any worse immediately, but it will begin a subtle depression as your goals lose out to entertainment or socializing. This is distraction.
Another form of distraction is to occupy your mind with unpleasant thoughts — reminding you of your "obligations," or telling you things that you worry about or things that make you angry. Fuming and fretting are not good uses of your mental resources. They slow your progress and bring you down. When you are worrying or angry, your mind is not being used to further your goals. And it's bad for your health and relationships.
Someone who brings you down might also tell you you're doing too much or too little, and in this way mess with your own rhythm and pace, tripping you up. They can make you feel bad by telling you you're doing more than you ought to, or make you feel bad by telling you you're not doing enough. An insidious way of keeping you distracted is for someone you love to be sick or out of control (drinking, for example) or in some way making it necessary for you to take care of him, effectively erasing the time you would otherwise work toward your goal.
THE FAMOUS DEMONSTRATION
In our courses, Klassy demonstrates the effect of all this with the audiences' participation. She asks for two volunteers to come up to the front of the room and let her bring them down. Let's go into the course room now and listen to Klassy do the demonstration. The following has been transcribed from one of the courses:
"I need two people. The only requirement is that you're wearing comfortable shoes. You? Good. Thank you. Come on up. And you? Excellent. Now [speaking to the two volunteers] I'd like you to look at the audience and find someone who would be a good match for you in a tug of war — and who is also wearing comfortable shoes.
"Okay [to the audience] these two people [referring to the first two volunteers] are going to represent you in your life. You're going to see what your life looks like. You two volunteers stand here and here and face that wall across the room [the wall to the right of the stage from the audiences' perspective; the volunteers are to the left of center-stage]. That wall will represent a goal of yours. You're going to try to reach it while the two people behind you are going to try to stop you. They are the barriers to your goal.
"Not just yet, but in a little while I'm going to ask you two barriers to come up behind them and put your arms around their waist, and be a drag on them while they try to reach their goal.
[She turns to the audience]: "We all have things that hold us back. If we didn't, we'd just go get what we wanted. So if you don't have what you want, it's because something is acting as a barrier to hold you back.
[Speaking to the two people (the barriers) that the first two volunteers have chosen]: "You two barriers, we're going to do the demonstration twice and I want you to stay consistent. Hold them back equally the first and second time because I want the difference to be a result in them, not because of something you are doing differently, okay? [They nod].
[Speaking to the goal-seekers — the first two volunteers]: "With your permission, I'm now going to bring you down. Then when I say, 'Go for what you want,' I want you to start moving toward your goal, represented by this wall [the wall to the right of center stage].
"But first, I'd like you to think of some bad news you've heard lately...[Klassy gives them time to think of some. When it looks like they've both found something, she continues]:
"Think of a mistake you've made...
"Now think of something good in your life...
"and realize it's not going to last...
"Think of something bad in your life...
"and realize it's probably permanent...
"and you're going to have to deal with it for the rest of your life...
"Think about a weakness you have, a fault you have, something that holds you back...
"Think of something that stands in your way and prevents you from getting what you want...
"and realize it is more than you can handle...
"Add up all the barriers you can think of that stand in your way...
"and all your personal weaknesses...
"and come to grips with the fact that your goal is completely hopeless...
"You'll save yourself a lot of heartache if you just give up now...
"Now I'd like the barriers to come up behind you and put their arms around your waist and interlace their fingers. And I'd like you to look down at their hands and keep looking at their hands, feeling the strength in their arms. Keep your attention on the barriers, and think about all the things that the arms represent: the barriers, your weaknesses, the hopelessness of the task. In your thoughts, I want you to hear what you tell yourself about all your failures and shortcomings and everything that's wrong with you. When you feel down, what do you say to yourself about yourself?
"Remember vividly all the times you have failed..."
"Keep looking down at the hands and be aware of the strength of the barrier holding you back. With all your attention on the power of the barrier, I want you now to come and get your goal.
[At first there is no movement. Then they slowly inch forward, eyes down, looking serious, even sad. She lets them struggle that way for a couple of minutes. Very little progress is made.]
"Okay that's enough. Thank you. Now I'd like you to go back to where you were again. We're going to turn it around. Think of something good in your life...
"it's probably going to last...
"Think of something bad in your life...
"it's temporary, you'll get through it...
"Think of some success you've had...a time when you did something and you won or it came out right and you felt really pleased with yourself, proud of yourself...
"When you think about a new challenge, you can remember, 'Well, if I could do that, I can do this.'
"Think of all the strengths you have, talents that many other people don't have...
"There are quite a few once you start thinking about it...
"I've got a little gold star in my hand [it's a gold Christmas ornament about 4 inches by 4 inches]. I want you to focus your attention on it. Ignore the hands around your waist, and keep your eyes on this star. Let the star represent what you could have. This star is your goal.
"Imagine you achieved this goal...
"would you dress any different?
"Would you go places you now don't go?
"When you achieve this, what great things will you be saying to yourself?
"Think about the good things other people will say when you have this goal...
"What will it feel like to know you have attained this goal?
"What will it feel like to know you had what it took to achieve it?
"Barriers, please put your arms around them again.
"Now, you two: Keep your eyes on the goal. Remember a time when you did very well at something...
"and I want you to know if you did very well once, you can do very well again...
"I want you to know a lot of people are behind you and want to help you...
"You will reach your goal!
"You have the strength. You have the talent. You have the determination.
"Keep your thoughts on this goal now. Stay aware of your feelings about this goal, and how you'll feel when you reach it. Now come get it! [Without hesitation, they both suddenly pull forward, smiling and laughing. The barriers are no match. The barriers unsuccessfully try to hold them back, but their effort is futile. In about three seconds, everyone is at the goal. One of the people reaches up and touches the gold star with a big smile on his face. Everyone laughs.]
"Thank you. I'd like to ask the barriers a question: Did you notice anything different between the first time and the second time? [They both nod yes.] Okay, what was the difference? [One of them says, "He had more energy the second time." Klassy goes to the chalkboard and writes "energy".]
"Anything else you noticed? [One of them says, "She did it easier."] Klassy writes "easier" underneath "energy" on the board.]
"Anything else? [One says, "They were faster the second time." Klassy adds "faster" to the list.] I don't know if you in the audience could see their faces, but there were more smiles the second time. We'll assume smiles have to do with fun. [She adds "fun" to the list.] Okay, thanks to both of you. You two barriers can sit down.
[Klassy turns to the audience.] Now I'd like to ask you: What did you notice was different between the first time and the second time? [Somebody calls out, "More confidence the second time." Klassy adds "confidence" to the list. People say more things, and she adds them to the list: determination, strength, focus.]
[She turns to the two main participants in the demonstration — the goal seekers]: "Now I'd like to ask you, 'What was the difference for you?' [One of them says, "It reminded me of learning how to drive. When I first started I focused my eyes on the front edge of the car, and I wasn't very effective. My Dad said over and over to look out ahead, and when I did, my driving got a lot better and I could relax." The other one says, "I felt stronger and more determined."]
"Thank you. That's a good one. Anything else you want to add? Okay, thank you for helping. You can sit down now.
"What I want you all to know is these things [she points to the list on the chalkboard] that happen when someone brings you up are exactly the opposite when someone brings you down. When they bring you down, they make you weaker. When you come down, it saps your energy. When they bring you down, it becomes harder for you to accomplish things, and it will take you longer to accomplish them. The task of achieving your goal won't be as much fun, you're going to lose some of you confidence, you'll have less determination, you'll become confused and unfocused, and you won't feel very good about yourself or others. That's what happens to you when someone brings you down. It's a dangerous thing. It doesn't just feel bad. It has real consequences in your life, in your ability to accomplish your goals in life.
"There are other things you can't see in a demonstration like this, but they can be tested in an experimental setting. For instance, when someone brings you down, it weakens your immune defenses. One way to test your immune system is by checking your saliva for a substance called "immunoglobulin A" — part of the immune defense system. It's an anti-bacterial substance, and it's one of the first lines of defense against airborne diseases. When someone brings you down, it measurably lowers the amount of immunoglobulin A in your saliva — a concrete demonstration of a weakened immune system.
"When you come up, when your mood improves, just the opposite happens: Your immune system gets boosted. Other experiments show that injuries heal faster when you're in a better mood.
"If someone is bringing you down in your life, you're more likely to get sick. If you get sick, it'll last longer and be more intense. If you get an injury — pull a back muscle or sprain an ankle — it'll take you longer to recuperate. These are things we couldn't demonstrate here, but they can be and have been measured by researchers. The point is, if you only look at what they do to your body, you can see it is somewhat dangerous for you to have someone in your life who brings you down.
BAD MOODS ARE BAD FOR YOUR BODY
A bad mood effects your body. Anger, frustration, worry and depression all impair your body's ability to heal itself. They weaken your immune system. The scientific evidence for this is overwhelming. As Dr. Howard Friedman (professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine) put it, "Depressed, anxious, angry or hostile people are twice as likely to suffer from heart disease, asthma, arthritis and headaches as are happier, more relaxed individuals."
Researchers have been finding that what makes people "catch a cold" is not what we thought. When they measure the amount of virus in the blood stream, it seems to have nothing to do with whether the person gets sick or not. Some people with lots of virus in their system did not get sick, and some with very little did get sick. One factor that was related to getting sick was stress. If the person experienced negative emotions, it was a good predictor of upcoming illness. The more negative feelings a person had during a given week, the more likely they were to "catch" a cold.
Apparently bad moods weaken your immune system enough to make your body a nice place for a virus to raise a family.
But your body is not the only thing impaired. When I bring you down, I make you less able to access your intelligence. Have you ever noticed when you're upset or in a bad mood or depressed that you feel confused and can't sort your thoughts very well? When someone brings you down, she literally makes you less able to use your intelligence. When you're upset, it's like looking at your life through a carnival mirror. In other words, you can look at your life, and you know it's your life you're looking at because when you move your arm, the reflection moves its arm, but your head looks enormous, your body is elongated, your feet are gigantic. It's your life, but it's distorted.
Just like a carnival mirror, bad feelings distort your perception. Big things seem small and small things seem big. For example, sometimes when people bring you down, they make you angry. When you're angry, you treat little things like big things. It is commonly known as 'blowing things out of proportion.' Sometimes you can argue for quite awhile and the next day not even know what it was about because it was so insignificant — but it was a big deal to you at the time.
Your state of mind and emotion changes how you perceive things. You are still perceiving the world — you're not hallucinating or seeing things that aren't there, but the emphasis has changed. You interpret an innocent remark as an attack. You remember all the times what's-his-name let you down, and you forget all the times he did you right.
We distort in the direction of the state. Anger biases you to see more trespass. Sadness biases you to see more loss. Fear biases you to see more danger. Let's go back to the course room for a demonstration of this principle.
"[Klassy says to the audience] Look around the room and call out loud and point to everywhere you see the color red. [People start pointing to other people's clothing, notebooks, pens, jewelry, etc. It keeps going as people notice more and more things with a red color.] Okay. There's quite a bit of red in this room. Now find all the blue in the room. [Again people call out and point to all the things in the room colored blue.] You can see more of what you're looking for, can't you? Well, our state of emotion colors our world, changing our perception so that we look for and find all the aspects of our world that match our state, that match what we're 'looking for.'
"The same thing happens when you buy a new car. You never noticed before how many of them there are on the road! But there are no more on the road after you buy than before (well, there's one more — yours!) It's just that your attention is more drawn to that kind of car now, so you notice more of them. And the same thing happens to your perception, depending on what mood you're in. If a person is worried, she will notice much more danger than someone who is not worried. She'll see more knives and fast moving cars and poisonous things. She'll remember news about danger with much more clarity than other pieces of news. The state she's in focuses attention in a certain way, and it distorts her world by causing her to miss a lot of non-dangerous things and to emphasis and pay closer attention to even the smallest chance of danger. Just like when you were all looking around the room for the color red. At first you noticed the big things, the obvious things, and it didn't seem there was very much red. But as you looked, you saw more and more. You noticed smaller and smaller things that were red. Some of you even pointed out red pieces of lint in the carpet! Your emotional state does the same thing.
"Fear and worry are bad feelings, and they influence our perception. Fear tends to focus the mind so much on the threat that we overlook some good options. It's like the man who fell to his death because he had a left-handed parachute on. Did you ever hear about that tragic accident?
"The man's parachute worked fine, but when he couldn't find the pull-cord where it normally was (on the right side), he panicked and frantically focused on pulling that cord, ripping to shreds the right side of his jacket and even his own skin trying to pull the cord.
"Had he been sitting on the ground, no doubt he would have quickly realized the pull cord was on the left side. Instead, he was in the air, and his fear focused his mind so completely that perfectly good options became unavailable to him.
"Apathy distorts your perception in a different way. Important things seem unimportant. So you have something big and important and you know you ought to be getting to it, but you just don't care. You don't do things you know you should do.
"Bottom line: When someone brings you down, it distorts your perception of life and impairs your ability to get an accurate view of the world, and further, it impairs the access you have to your own intelligence.
"In a bad mood, you're looking at your life through a carnival mirror. Yes, it's your life you're looking at, but it's so distorted, when you try to make decisions or come up with solutions, they don't work very well because you aren't seeing things truly. It would be like wearing glasses with the wrong prescription. You would be seeing the real world, but it would be distorted. You'd have a tendency to misjudge distances and run into things.
"If you look at the world through a bad mood, any solution you create will likely be inappropriate for your life. And a bad solution tends to cause more stress. First, the stress causes the distortion. Then the distortion causes more stress. It's a counter-productive cycle: Stress leads to more stress.
"Bad moods also effect your ability to think. You aren't as intelligent when you're in a bad mood, and you're prone to do irrational, counter-productive things.
Stress may even do damage to your brain. Recent research by Robert Sapolsky (a neuroscientist at Stanford) exposed rats to prolonged stress or injected them with the same hormones their bodies produce in response to a threat. In both cases, the rats lost brain cells in a vital region of the brain (the hippocampus). Dr. Sapolsky points out that although humans haven't undergone the same kind of direct experimentation, there is indirect evidence that humans also lose brain cells in the same way rats do when they experience prolonged stress.
"Bad moods also damage your character. You don't act as well when you're down as when you're up. When you're down, you've brought your worst into the world. I'd be willing to bet most of the things you wish you hadn't done, you did when you were down.
"Researchers Eliot Aronson and David Mettee wanted to see what influence (if any) put-downs have on a person's level of honesty. They took a group of students and gave them a personality tests. Unbeknownst to the students, the researchers didn't even look at the test results. Then they told the students they had checked all the tests and now they were ready to reveal the findings. They split the students at random into three groups. The students thought the split was based on the test. One group was told. 'The test showed you to be very mature, interesting, deep, etc.' These people felt good about this.
"The next group the told, 'The test showed you're shallow, immature, etc.' These people got shot down.
"The third group was told nothing about the test results. Then they were all told the experiment was over, and thank you very much. Now they were going to do another experiment. The two experiments were related, as you'll find out, but the students didn't know it.
"The students had to learn a card game. But the game was rigged so they would lose unless they cheated and if they cheated, they could actually win a lot of money.
"The people who got shot down in the earlier experiment cheated more readily than the other two groups.
"What does this tell you? When you get brought down, it is easier to do unethical things. You don't have as much courage to tell the truth. When you're down, you behave in ways you're not as proud of. You aren't as likely to keep your commitments or accomplish what you wanted to accomplish. You are more likely to participate in malicious gossip. You're more likely to be mean to people. Most of the things you've done in your life that you're ashamed of are things you've done when you feeling negative emotions.
"People who bring you down weaken your character and impair your self-discipline.
"They also harm your relationships. You come down and bring your worst side into your relationships. Someone at work brings you down and you come home and snap at your spouse. Do you like being around someone who is down? No. People have a tendency to pull away from someone in a bad mood. Relationships are about being close together. When you're down and in a bad mood, people don't want to be around you, so you have a tendency to weaken your relationships. Plus again, you probably don't do anything bad to your relationship when you're in a good mood. Probably most of the damage you've done to the people you love and care about was when you were in a bad mood. You weren't feeling good and you said something mean to them. Or you acted less ethically than normal. Or you were more selfish. You hurt the people you love most when you're in a bad mood.
"When someone brings you down, you're not as healthy, you're not as capable of thinking straight, your character isn't as strong, and you damage your relationships.
"That's the bad news."
Bad moods also influence your level of energy. You've noticed this, haven't you? When you're in a bad mood or really stressed out, there are times when everything seems just too much effort.
So the stress drains us and we don't get as much done. And when we don't get as much done, we're not as capable of meeting our challenges. Once again we have a snowball effect: When we feel bad and we don't have enough energy and our bodies are down, we can't get as much done and we're sick more often, and that, in turn, causes more stress in our life.
Let's be very clear about this. Researchers have discovered a link between bad feelings and ethical behavior. Your mood influences your character. When we're in a bad mood, we're more likely to:
2. avoid facing problems squarely
3. be sneaky
In the experiment above, notice the results: People who felt good about themselves (the ones given the compliments earlier) were reluctant to cheat, even with the temptation of lots of money.
But people who had been made to feel bad about themselves — people who were in a bad mood — cheated easily and often.
So when you're in a bad mood, you've really threatened your own integrity. You've brought your worst into the world. You will do things you'll regret. We've all been angry (which is one kind of bad mood) and said something we wished we hadn't said. Out of our anger, we've hurt people intentionally (something that doesn't make us feel good about ourselves). And we've all been afraid of something (another kind of bad mood), and because of the fear, we avoided doing something we wanted to do — something that would have made us proud of ourselves.
Here again, you can see the downward spiral: You're in a bad mood and you do things you're ashamed of, which adds more stress (negative emotion) to your life.
THE COMMUNITY AT LARGE
Being in a bad mood is also harmful to every one of your friends and family — and the community at large. When you're in a bad mood, you're not as pleasant to be around. And you're more likely to say snippy little nasty things to people and bring them down. You're not available to people when you're stressed out, so you really don't have it in you to help anyone. In a bad mood, you probably wouldn't even notice people around you needed help.
Our families suffer. We snap at them; we can sometimes be mean to them. These things not only make us feel bad later, but we make them feel bad.
It is likely to have an effect on not only your family and friends, but strangers. If you've ever been in a bad enough mood, you are more likely to cut someone off on the freeway, or glare at a grocery clerk who made a small mistake. It's bad for the community at large.
Okay, no more guilt. Bad moods are bad.
It's important to have a healthy respect for what a bad mood does. That's the first place to start. When we know what stress does to us, the motivation to do something about it becomes stronger.
When we battle stress by trying to get rid of stress, it creates a negative, self-perpetuating cycle. Battling stress creates more stress. Battling stress is a stressful thing to do. Have you ever seen one of those Chinese finger-pulls? The harder you try to get out of it, the more tightly it grips your finger. Well, that's kind of what stress is like. The harder you try to fight stress and not be upset, the more stressed-out you are.
Stress weakens you and makes you unhappy and less productive.
Luckily, being in a good mood is a total antidote for all of that. Good moods are nearly magical in the power they have for you.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
How do you handle someone who brings you down? The answer is: You can't. You heard right: You can't. You've been had. You've read this article to find out how to handle them, and here I am telling you "you can't."
Let us draw an analogy to show you why this is so. It is as if the people who bring you down live in the low parts of life. They live in the swamps. They live where there's a lot of depression and worry and hostility. Have some pity — they live there. We have trouble dealing with them, but it would be even worse to be them. They are like someone from a swamp who is slimy and smells bad and has spores of slime-mold they leave behind (seeds of doubt and worry in your mind). And you're asking, "How can I relate to this person without getting slimy?" It's not going to happen! You will get slimy and stinky every time you interact.
If I talk to you about your barriers and about everything bad in the world, and I imply everything bad is going to last and nothing good will, and I feel bad about myself (moods are contagious), you can't listen to that for too long without coming down. A person can make a good case for anything with the manipulation of the facts, some exaggeration, selective deletion and lots of personal conviction. You might not want to be persuaded or influenced, but you are human.
The question, "How can I deal with someone who brings me down without coming down?" is like asking, "How do I wrestle with someone who is covered with mud without getting myself muddy?" It is impossible (or at least very difficult)!
STAY OUT OF IT
So is there anything that can be done? Yes. The first thing is going to seem very simple and you might accuse me of being flippant, but I'm not. Not at all. One of the most practical things you can do with someone who brings you down — and it's the very first thing to do — is be vague. There's a lot of power in that. If you say specifically what you're going to do and where you're going to go, it's pretty easy to put a damper on it. If you say, "I think I'm going to go to Hawaii in February," they can say, "Oh, there's been an outbreak of a deadly disease in Hawaii, and it's the worst time to go because it's so crowded, and besides, you've got responsibilities." That's an overt example. People who bring you down use techniques that are often too subtle and tricky to describe, so let us say this: If you are open with your life and share information freely with someone who brings you down, they will use that information against you somehow. It will get twisted and embellished and come back to you in a monstrous form. You say you had a little cold. Later you hear that person telling someone else you didn't take care of yourself very well and were out with the flu.
If someone knows specifically what you're up to, it is very easy for them to zing it. So stay vague and put a kind of cloak of generalities over you. Remember the old Dial commercials where they had the "dome of protection?" Being vague is like a dome of protection. When they want to know what's going on with you, just be vague. Be warm, be gentle, be kind, be compassionate with them — I'm not talking about being rude or hurting their feelings, but it will be easier on them and easier on you if you're vague. When they ask how your work is going, say "pretty good." When they ask what you did over the weekend, say, "Not much."
When there's someone in your life who brings you down, it is a natural, normal, healthy response to want to fight it. But think about it: If you try to fight it, what if you win? Was it a pleasant way to spend your time? And you're probably not going to win anyway. It's an exercise in futility and frustration to try to get a person to change (especially when they don't want to change and even more especially when you do it with fighting).
Being vague is simply a gracious way to avoid the conflict. In the martial art called Aikido, it is basically about being so good at defense or deflecting the attack, that you don't have to fight. Most martial arts, like karate for example, is a contest to see who is going to be the most powerful, the most intense, the fastest, etc. If you try to fight that way with someone who brings you down, they are probably going to win. Some things in life you can't win at and keep your ethics. If I'm an aggressive person and you're a polite person, and there is a piece of candy on the table between us, who is going to get the candy? I am. So if the polite person wants to get the goodies, she is going to have to come to my level of aggressiveness to get it or she won't get it. The same principle applies to people who bring you down. You want to stay in a good mood and you would like other people to stay in a good mood. What if a person you're dealing with doesn't care if you're in a good mood? What if they want you to share their unhappiness with them?
Sometimes evil is more powerful than goodness, and we're lucky evil is so outnumbered. It may take 20 people an entire year to build an apartment complex, and one person with a lighter 30 minutes to destroy it. You may exercise, eat right, try to maintain a good attitude, work on your relationships so they are supportive and nurturing, and do everything in your power to be happy, and it then someone comes and brings you down in ten seconds.
One way to protect yourself is to first find out who in your life brings you down consistently and then make a rule for yourself to always be vague when talking with them.
It seems like someone would notice you being vague, doesn't it? And if that's all you did, someone probably would notice. But if you then ask a question, it is a sort of distraction, and it is all perfectly polite. "My work is going fairly well. How's your new job going? How's your new boss?" Of course, someone who brings you down can still bring you down when they talk about their life just by hearing their interpretation of the way life works. So you might want to simply be vague and evasive with them and not ask them about themselves. It depends on who you are dealing with.
People will talk forever about what they want, or what's in the way of what they want. So one very gracious way of handling someone who brings you down is be very vague about your life and try to focus the conversation on their life. Then when you walk away from them, you can often shed whatever happened with them easier because it was about their life. They haven't left as many barbs in your life, because the truth is, although you can be brought down during the conversation, they can also say things that bother you later. A really good way to avoid this is don't let them know anything about your life. It's a lot easier to drop their life out of your mind (unless it is a close family member — and we'll get to that later).
How can you handle people who bring you down? The first principle is BE VAGUE.
FIND SOMETHING BETTER TO DO
All human beings have two main drives. Everybody wants to be happier, and we don't want to be sad, mad or anxious. Given your own devices, you, like every other human being, would like to do things that are fun to do, that make you happy, that bring you up, that improve your spirits. And you shy away from anything that brings you down or has some pain to it.
I know something else about you: You want to make progress. There might be a few people sitting in a monastery someplace, totally content with their lives, but I'll bet you're not one of them. You want to make progress. You want to make gains. You want to have something more in your life than you have now. You want to make more money, you want to have a better relationship, and you want your body to feel better. Those are the big three. You want to make gains. And when you're making gains, you feel good about yourself. We do not want to have loss, or trespass or danger.
When we say "Find something better to do," we're saying, "Look, you only have 16 hours in your day (given a 24 hour day and you sleep for eight). How you fill these up, and what activities and people you put into those 16 hours is what your life ends up being." So the ideal, the most incredible, wonderful thing you can do with your time is toward what you want (that is fun and pleasurable to do) and that makes gain. That's the very best place to spend your time — doing something you enjoy doing and that simultaneously moves you toward something you want.
Given the two vectors — 1) you want to feel good, and 2) you want to make progress — you have four possibilities. You can do something that feels good and makes progress, you can feel good without making progress, you can make progress without feeling good, or you can do something that doesn't feel good and doesn't make any progress. We'll call those four possibilities the four quadrants.
One time a friend of mine and I were sitting around one afternoon having a great time talking to each other, and I noticed she seemed distracted. Turns out she wanted to get her lawn furniture painted because she was having in-laws over for a party. So we decided to do it together. We had a wonderful time because we were in this quadrant — getting something done she wanted to get done and we were having fun talking with each other while we were doing it. That's a wonderful place to spend your time. And if you can spend hours of your life doing things that are fun and move you toward a goal, the more of that quadrant you can use, the better your life is.
Of course, we have to be realistic. There are some things in life you have to do that aren't any fun, maybe even painful or frustrating. Do you like doing your taxes? But you have to do it. So there are some things that move you ahead but they're not very much fun to do. But when you're done with them you feel pretty good. Licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox feels pretty good. You may not have liked the several hours of trying to figure out, or even comprehend the form, but when it's over, you have the satisfying feeling of Ground Gained.
The point is, there are things in your life that are unpleasant to some degree, but they move you ahead, and they're worth it. Sometimes telling the truth is painful, but when you do it, your life is better off. Exercising, working at your job, etc. There are things you do in your life that are going to cause you a little pain or stress, but if they leave you better off, they're a good thing to do.
You can also do something that's fun but it has no gain to it. It's just fun to do. We're entitled to do that as human beings. In fact, it can have a positive effect on your health to do it, so I guess in that sense, there is a gain. But it is not directly gain-seeking. When it is, it isn't in this quadrant. This is stuff you do just for fun, not for the gain in health.
An afternoon out with a friend, having tea and going shopping, would fall into this category. It doesn't accomplish much. Going to the movies or going out to dinner doesn't get the dishes done at home, doesn't get the IRS forms done, doesn't make you any money or help you lose weight, but it lifts your spirits, and there are some valuable things about lifting your spirits.
The one quadrant that we should avoid at all costs is moving in a direction that is no fun and produces no gain. And that's where you'll find the people who bring you down. They're not fun to be around and not only do you not gain much being with them, but sometimes you're actually put back a little bit and have to recuperate from the damage they've done. When you find yourself in this quadrant, when you find yourself in a bad mood and not making any progress, find something better to do! In other words, do something any one of the other three quadrants.
The very best thing you can do is ask yourself if there is something fun you could do that would help you make progress toward your goals. If you can't think of something like that, find something unpleasant or at least non-enjoyable and productive and do that. It is something better to do. It's better to experience discomfort and have something to show for your trouble than it is to experience discomfort and use up your time and gain nothing at all. It will at least distract your mind in a productive way. You're better off going to a movie or reading a book than being around someone that brings you down.
You will have a certain amount of the fourth quadrant. People who bring you down already occupy a certain amount of your life. There's no way you're going to have a life that doesn't have people like that in it. But if you worry on the way home about them, you've given them more of your life. And if you go home and talk to your spouse about them, you've given them more of your day. And if you sit in the bathtub that night pondering how you can get even with them, you've given them more of your day.
You're not going to be able to eliminate all of the moments in the fourth quadrant, but as much as possible, crowd them out of the rest of your life. When you find yourself upset about someone, tell yourself there's got to be something better to do. Ask yourself, "Can I do anything that's fun and moves me ahead? Can I do anything that just moves me ahead? Can I do anything that's just fun?" And then find a tactful way to go do that. Just find something better to do. If Aunt Mildred is on the phone, and she does nothing but whine and complain, you can tell her, "I promised myself I'd get that closet clean today, so I've got to go clean the closet now because tonight I won't be able to because I have to take the kids to soccer practice. Sorry Aunt Mildred, but I've got to go." Realize it is more important to you and you'd probably be better off if you went and cleaned the closet rather than talking to Aunt Mildred.
Do it graciously. But find something better to do. That is the key core technique.
TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF
If you have spent time with a person who brings you down, you have been damaged. To be fully responsible for that, you need to say, "Okay, I'm in a bad mood now after interacting with that person. I need to do something to compensate for that." An automatic, natural response to these people is to try to find a way to diminish the person who is bringing you down, to make him smaller and less capable, because if he's smaller, he'll hopefully have less energy for stinging, berating, complaining or crazymaking. You want to stop him from bringing you down. If you're not careful, you'll focus your time and energy on how to make less of people who bring you down. But that approach is self-defeating and counter-productive, because you have to take part of your 16 hours to do it and the process itself will bring you down.
You can't fight your way out of quicksand with effort. In fact, you dig yourself in deeper the more you fight it. In the same way, you can't bring another person down enough to make him stop bringing you down. It will just get worse. You're not only wasting a precious portion of your sixteen hours, but you are compounding your problem by trying to fix it.
It's like trying to fall asleep because you have to get up early. Have you ever done that? You toss and turn and keep looking at the clock and get more and more upset that it's getting later and later and you will be tired tomorrow and you really need to get some sleep! You are compounding the problem by trying to fix it. The more you try to go to sleep, the more awake you are.
With some things in life, the more you try to make something better, the worse it becomes. This is one of those. The activity of trying to being someone down to prevent him from bringing you down will bring you down. And the other person will tend to retaliate by bringing you down even more.
It is very difficult to change someone else. Have you ever noticed that? It's as if they are inside a room and the only key to that room is locked inside with them. They can change their life when they decide to change their life, but probably you're going to put out dollars and dollars and get back maybe a couple pennies worth of effect. It's a poor investment of your time to try to change somebody else. What you can do, and what you have total control over, is making yourself higher (improving your mood) so you become a bigger, more capable person.
Let's make it like physical size. When you improve your mood, it is like getting bigger. You become smarter, stronger, healthier, more successful, and have more integrity. There is more of you. And when you come down, you get smaller. Using this as the analogy, let's say when you meet someone who brings you down, you are equal in size. If they bring you down, you become smaller. If you try to handle it by somehow suppressing them, it will bring you down — and they will bring you down all the harder. The more you fight it, the worse it gets. It is more effective and much easier to simply take good care of yourself.
You know when you're in a really good mood, things don't bother you as much. You can be in such a good mood that people can't get to you. Think of something that would make you supremely happy: Winning the lottery, meeting the perfect mate, whatever. Imagine someone trying to bring you down in that state. You are immune.
Taking good care of yourself if like building an immunity to people who bring you down. They are less able to infect you.
As another example, let's say you keep pulling back muscles every time you pick something up. So you start a weight-lifting and back-stretching program. When your back is strong and flexible, you can lift the things you were lifting before, only now there's no pain.
Concentrate on bringing yourself up and you strengthen and immunize yourself against people who at one time could bring you down.
The same principle applies to the part of you who brings you down. You know that radio station in your head that never stops and is always commenting? You have things about yourself you don't like, right? And there are also things about you that you like. Imagine a balance scale with a pan on each side.
The object of the game is to make it so there is more good than bad. There are two ways to go about it and the way that comes most naturally is to try to get rid of what's wrong. It's human nature to be negative. That's why people complain so much. That's why you find fault with people so easily. It's why people watch the news even though it's depressing.
So you see what's wrong with you and you try to change it. If you spend all of your 16 hours on this, you will have a pretty miserable life. Plus, when you're finished, even if you manage to eliminate some of the things you don't like about yourself, you've diminished your life and made it smaller.
The other way to go about it is to say, "Okay, I'm not perfect. But I like some of these things over here that I do, so I'm going to try to make more of it. I'm going to try to make the best of that strength or that asset. I'll take a class or spend some time practicing. I'm going to keep trying to make there be more good to me."
So one way is to take away things on one side of the balance scale (the things you don't like), and the other way is to add to the other side (strengthen the things you like).
Trying to put more good in your life is, first of all, a pleasant process. Most of the time when you're doing something that makes you happy, it's a pretty good time. So you fill up those 16 hours with enjoyment. And you end up with a bigger life with more options, more abilities, and more possibilities.
Over a period of time — have you ever noticed this? — some old people have tiny, narrow little lives. They got it by getting rid of what didn't work, getting rid of what they don't like, getting rid of people that disagreed with them, and so on. Now they've got a tiny life that works pretty good. That's one way to go. In our opinion, life is too short to waste that way.
There's a billionaire in the United States that always wears cowboy boots because he never learned to tie his shoes. Is he a dope because he can't tie his shoes? He didn't let it stand in his way. And you're always hearing success stories of people who have major faults — Thomas Edison was such a trouble maker in school, he was kicked out after three months. He became the world's greatest inventor with a total of three months of schooling! Some of Galileo's friends thought he "ruined himself by being so much in love with his own genius, and by having no respect for others." Walt Disney went bankrupt three times.
Remember we were telling you earlier that good moods strengthened your immune system and bad moods weaken it? In an experiment by Arthur Stone at the University of New York, a new angle has been uncovered. A good event like an enjoyable time with a friend or getting a compliment on your work increases your body's production of immune cells for two or three days. On the other hand, something negative, like criticizing yourself or arguing with someone depresses your immune system, but only for one day. That means it is in your best interest to focus your attention on the good stuff — it is twice as powerful!
Other research has shown that you are less likely to catch a cold because of an increase in unpleasant stress than because of experiencing fewer pleasurable experiences. The things that bring you up do more good than the bad of things that bring you down. So fighting the bad is unwise. Enhancing the good is the way to go.
There are four things you can do to make yourself bigger and more able to handle the people who bring you down:
- Do something good for your body because your body has been damaged.
- Do something good for the world you live in because depression is a conviction that you're helpless.
- Do something to learn so you're more able to handle the situation you're in.
- Get it said.
The first one is do something good for your body. I used to deal with depression quite heavily, so much so that for a brief period of time in my life I was suicidal and under psychiatric care and taking drugs so I wouldn't kill myself. When you're at that state in life, first of all, you're very aware of who brings you down because they are the ones who push you closer to the edge. So you have an advantage. You look at people differently when you're that far down.
And you start noticing also what takes you away from the edge. Walking is literally, for me, a gateway to sanity, because when you start walking, first of all, you get a new perspective. If you're in a room or an office, and you've got trouble in that room, one of the best things you can do is get out of that room. Change your perspective. Go for a walk.
When you first start going for a walk, don't worry about how fast. Don't worry about what you look like or how far you're going to go. Just get out and start putting one foot in front of the other and maybe notice some things on the ground. As you start to walk, raise your sights a little bit and start noticing some bushes and trees, and you'll start changing your attitude. Sometimes when you are bummed you have a tendency to look down. Looking up changes your attitude all by itself a little.
They took clinically depressed people and told them to stand up straight and look up. That's it. You know, there's an emotion that goes with that. And what they found was, simply standing up straight and looking up made them feel less depressed.
So when you go out, try to raise your spirits up a little bit and start looking a little farther and farther away. As you walk, you'll find that you'll start feeling a little bit better. I think you'll be impressed with how well this works. I've gone for a walk feeling so bad I was crying, and 45 minutes later I'm smiling. That's an incredible transition to make in only 45 minutes. The more you walk, the better you feel, and the better you feel, the more you feel like walking, so don't worry about how fast you go in the beginning. Just get started.
For anyone whose body is fully grown, moderate exercise will give more of an improvement to you than strenuous exercise. Strenuous exercise damages you slightly, which you then have to recuperate from, and leaves you open to injuries. This is not my opinion, but a tested conclusion based on well-conducted scientific studies. So if you're going to go out and walk to exercise, you should always be able to talk, to carry on a conversation while you are walking. If you can't talk, you are walking too fast.
If you're uptight, or upset and you need to mellow out, go for a slow walk. They did a study where they gave one group of people a tranquilizer and another group went for a slow 20 minute walk. The slow walk was more tranquilizing than a tranquilizer.
On the other hand, if you feel sluggish and you don't have any energy, go for a brisk walk. Walk so you feel warm and you're breathing deeply, but not panting, not hot, not out of breath, and that form of moderate exercise will give you more gain than trying to go faster, harder, heavier. When you exercise like that, your body produces hormones which are mood elevators and mood stabilizers. By exercising, you've raised your mood and stabilized it.
The second thing that happens when you exercise enough to be aerobic is that your body starts producing extra endorphins. That's a coined word meaning endogenous morphine. It means morphine that your body medicates itself with. The wonderful thing about endorphins is that they soothe physical and emotional pain.
When you walk briskly, you will experience less physical pain — your back or hip that was bothering you when you first started out probably won't bother you as bad when you come back (if it hurts worse the more you walk, stop; if it happens every time you walk, make an appointment with a physical therapist), and it will help ease your emotional pain. If you're going through trouble, it' is a great therapy. You'll come back in a better, more stable mood with less physical and emotional pain.
Anything you do to improve your body will help you counteract someone who brings you down.
Get enough sleep. That's another way to do something good for your body.
Eating healthy food is another way. When you change something like your eating habits, try small changes rather than large changes. A little upon a little. If I decide to improve my diet a little bit and I decide to go from 2% milk to 1%, I can probably keep that change in my life long enough to get used to it — so much so that later I'll drink 2% and it won't taste good to me. It's a small change. Not drastic, but a move in the right direction. And it is better to move a little and keep it than to move a lot only to lose it. You will feel a little better knowing you've improved your health. Yes, you may be able to make a bigger change and feel even better, but greed is not good — even this kind of greed. It pushes you closer to the edge where you are more likely to fall off. Don't be greedy about it, don't be impatient about it. Go for the small changes and keep them. This is sane, practical, hard-won advice.
Three things to stay away from are white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives. These are bad for your mood. They conspire with other people to bring you down. The largest nutritional research project ever done was on over a million students in the New York City school district. They chose a school district because the researchers can control what food is served there. They found that when they increased the amount of complex carbohydrates and decreased the amount of white sugar, white flour, and chemical additives, there was a dramatic improvement in the students' attention spans.
Another place where nutritional intake can be controlled even more tightly is in jails. Stephen Schoenthaler, Ph.D. has been studying the diets of offenders doing time in jail. He found that when the subjects ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and less refined carbohydrates, sugary desserts and chemical additives, there was not only an increase in attention span, but a significant decrease in depression, anxiety, tiredness and confusion. In other words, it improved their moods when they improved their diet.
Treat your body well: soak in a hot tub, get a massage, get a haircut, take a shower, have your nails done — do something to make your body feel better or look better.
Just ask yourself, "Is there anything I can do for my body that will put me in a better mood?" When you're in a better mood, you're better off, and the people you love are better off. And it makes you more able to deal with the challenges you face.
If you can't make the challenges smaller, you can make yourself more able to handle them. You will definitely be more able to handle them well rested and feeling good.
The second thing you can do to take good care of yourself (and this is also finding something better to do) is: Do something for the world you live in.
We start with your body and your world, because they are the easiest things to do when you're down. They are concrete and physical. When you're really down, you're distorted — your perception of life is off. Respect that and don't try to make decisions or work things out with other people when you are feeling down.
Fix something, mend something, clean up a storage room, clean out a desk drawer, do something to improve your physical world. If you have a piece of paper that isn't finished, a thank you note that needs to be written, a report that needs to be done, pick up one thing and finish it.
Depression is a conviction of your own helplessness, a conviction that you can't make a difference, that you have no effect. When you physically accomplish something that you can see, it weakens your conviction that you're helpless. Your accomplishment, no matter how small, is proof positive that you can cause and effect. Your mood will rise.
Besides that, you have also physically improved your world — the environment you are in — and an improved environment usually has a positive effect on your mood.
When your personal life is in great shape, try volunteering. Volunteers experience what is called a "helper's high." It's a good feeling and boosts your immune system. People who volunteer don't have as much illness, rate themselves as having a better, fuller life, and there are also indications now that people who volunteer live longer. Again, take on a little thing. Maybe just volunteer one afternoon a month. Make the world a better place and you will feel better.
The third thing is: Learn something. Learn something to make yourself more able to handle your problems or something that will make you more able to achieve your goals. If you have an alcoholic in your family and that troubles you, read up on it. I had several in my family and tried for years to help them. One day I read a simple thing: I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it. A very large weight came off my back. It brought me up.
Learn about people and learn technical skills. People skills will make more of a difference in your success and happiness.
You're better off learning about your problems than you are trying to change another person. See the difference? If I try to change someone, maybe nothing will happen. Probably nothing will happen. If I go to a class and learn something to make myself more able, there's a pretty good chance my effort will make a difference.
Learning brings understanding, and understanding will improve your mood. Not being able to understand something that's happening will bring you down. A lack of understanding is a tremendous drain on your well-being.
Learn something that will bring you up. This might mean taking a class at the college, reading a book, finding a counselor, or doing anything that will help you learn more about what's troubling you.
GET IT SAID
The last thing is to get it said. If you have something you want to say and you stop yourself from saying it for some reason, do you know it doesn't go away? It stays there, hanging in suspended animation, wanting to be said. If you don't get it said, it is like a little piece of cancer inside you. If you will just get it said to someone, you will feel better.
If you have a friend in your life you can talk to, get it said to them. If you don't have anybody you can really talk to because you think it's too personal or involves someone else and you want to respect their privacy (or every person you know is a lousy listener — which is a pretty good probability), then go to the bookstore and get yourself a journal and write in that.
College students are under a lot of stress, so they were given instructions to write in a journal for 20 minutes a day about their emotionally troubling issues. Another group was told to write in a journal for 20 minutes a day about anything — what they had for lunch, what they did that day, etc. The ones who wrote about emotionally troubling issues missed less school because of illness and rated themselves as having a better attitude. All they did was get it said.
When you get something said, you can take your attention off it. It's not waiting to be said anymore. Have you ever been upset about something and spilled your guts to a good listener? When you finished, you probably gave a deep sigh of relief and felt you could go on. You had cleansed yourself of all those cancerous thoughts. Maybe you can't talk directly to the person bringing you down. If you can, try to work it out. If you can't, get it out of your system some other way. Don't let it sit in there and eat at you.
And get the good stuff said too. One common reason for leaving a job is also a common reason people leave their mates: They didn't feel appreciated. They felt taken for granted. So if you want to do something that not only brings you up, but also helps the people you're around to come up, is for you to appreciate someone. To take the time to say what you like. Take the time and notice the good in your life.
Once a day, look for something you can acknowledge in another. It's like a vitamin. It makes a big difference, in more ways than one. Be specific. Be sincere. Don't say stuff you don't mean. It will take effort. This is not some easy trick. It'll take effort and it will go against the natural negativity of your mind. Exert yourself to find something and say it. Tell someone what you appreciate and why you think it is valuable and worthy of comment.
When you have people around that you love and care about and you appreciate them, they feel better, and they're more able to handle the people in their lives who bring them down. And you have strengthened their moral backbone (increased their integrity), which will bring them up. You can make them bigger and better able to handle difficulties in their life, just by letting them know they're valuable. And it will help you.
Here's how to handle people who bring you down. First of all, be vague. Second, find something better to do. Do something good for your body or your world. Learn something. And get it said.