The Four myths that sustain unhappiness
I’m stealing these from Gary Chapman (the five love languages guy) and blogging about them for my own sake. I’m going through something right now, a struggle I always new was coming, and it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. Thankfully, due to God’s grace, I think I’ve been better prepared for it than I thought I was.
Myth One: my environment determines me
We believe that what surrounds us is totally determinative of who and what we are from moment to moment. I used to hate living in California so much that it gave me constant anxiety. Now that it’s an even worse place to live I don’t mind being here. This is part of the reason I joined the CalExit movement. Circumstances were such that moving really wasn’t an option and I realized that I didn’t know how long I would have to live in California. So I chose to love California. I chose to commit to California, despite the fact that this state’s politics quite literally think I am a Nazi, I chose to love that which hated me and now I’m at peace living here. This method won’t work for everything. You can’t choose to love being abused after all. But your environment is not controlling what and who you are. It does not determine you. Eugene Genovese showed in Roll, Jordan, Roll that while enslaved, black Americans built an entire world. They created culture, fought for rights, and extended their existence. They did that as slaves. The human soul is capable of rising above circumstance and environment.
Myth Two: people cannot change
The truth is that people don’t change. But that is different from claiming that they cannot. They can. They just tend not to for a variety of reasons, often they buy too heavily into the first myth. But people can change, and sometimes they do. As a Christian I have to believe this. My faith is literally based upon it. The whole Christian worldview is built around the idea that God changes us, that by God’s grace the meek and the mild will eventually inherit the glories of the universe. No one is beyond the possibility of change. I used to be mired in depression, anxiety, and addiction. Now I’m genuinely healthy and basically “happy.” I can’t believe I’m writing those words with no hint of irony or cynicism, that’s what makes my current struggle so shocking and difficult. While I thought I was strong I had to face weakness, deep weaknesses that I’ve been ignoring for a long time. But over the last few years I’ve seen myself go through a process of real change, and because I’ve seen it in me I know it’s possible for anyone reading this. But I think it’s unlikely apart from Jesus.
Myth Three: during trouble there are only two solutions 1)run or 2)consignment
When problems and tragedies arise there are two very typical responses. The Asian solution (and no I’m not being racist) is consignment. This is sort of a stoic approach without any of the creative wisdom of the stoics. The idea of consignment is that you give up and just let the thing wash over you. A tsunami is coming and the best thing to do is let it drown you. The white solution (and no I’m still not being racist) is to run, at least it’s become the mostly white western solution. Divorce is the big one. As soon as problems arise the western whitey just calls the whole thing off. The Asian grits and bears it consigning themselves to decades of misery and the whitey goes on a life long quest of serial monogamy, ruining and running to another marriage. There are other options between running and consignment. The big one would be actually attempt to deal with the problem, even if you can’t fix it completely, you might be able to change a horrible situation into a less horrible one. Sometimes that’s the first step towards turning failure into success.
Myth Four: my situation is hopeless
Facts don’t care about our feelings and our feelings don’t care about facts. But while feelings have absolutely no power to change facts, facts can change feelings. Not immediately, but facts have the power to change how we feel about things. For instance if you find out that you have cancer, that is a horrible fact. One that should bother you. The natural response to cancer is sadness and fear. But then let’s say the doctor tells you that your form of cancer can be beaten with a combination of things. One of those things is believing you’re gonna make it, because people who know they’re going to die only hasten the process. These are facts. People who believe they’re gonna beat cancer don’t beat cancer every time, but they increase their chances of doing so. Hope is good for the soul and the body. As a Christian I know there is always hope. Not stupid hope, not just positive thinking, but real hope for the future. No matter what happens to me here I know that in the end Jesus will actually make all things new, that I will be saved, and everything will be made good. That doesn’t make me despair in this life because I can live in light of that future hope. That future hope is a fact, a fact that transforms feelings.
These are the four myths that must be defeated if we’re going to live by what Gary Chapman calls reality based living. Next time I’ll detail his positive principles that are supposed to replace these myths.