From numerous directions, in and outside of my practice, I have received the call for some positive psychology – a weekly pick me up based on both anecdotal and scientific evidence. This is my answer to that call, to lighten our collective moods during these trying times.
For many of us this week has been the start of the most important month of the year. Even for those that do not partake, the start of the holy month of Ramadan is usually hard to miss. From every news outlet and television commercial, to big shopping deals, “Happy fasting” wishes and the occasional firework, these thirty days hold more than daily fasting alone.
Wether you are a devout muslim yourself, or of alternative or no belief at all we commonly sense that this is a special time of the year. Perhaps most importantly, this is the month of reflection and appreciation. Reflection on our lives, the previous year and the one ahead, and appreciation for all the things that we are blessed with wether big or small. The practices of reflection and appreciation also happen to be the main focus points in large amounts of psychological research studies towards happiness. Maybe it is not simply a coincidence that so many muslims look forward to the fasting month as being one of the happiest. As described in an earlier issue, both reflecting on our lives and trying to conjure up appreciation for all the positives we usually take for granted are important tools towards finding our personal happiness, and it seems that this month reminds us of such valuable lessons.
Conquer your fears by giving
Just as an empty stomach may do during the last half an hour before break fasting, our great city rumbles with the sound of frustration. The frustrations of us all at being isolated from one another, at not having a clear prediction on when that promised light at the end of the tunnel may be reached, and what it would look like. We are all frustrated to live in fear of an unseen threat during what surely feels should have been the year where we would otherwise have made things happen for ourselves! How we miss those opportunities not taken now they have been taken from us.
Perhaps we can find solace in each other, rather than finding someone to blame, or worse, to fear. In my practice I deal with people suffering from anxiety and fear on a daily basis, and I often like to know how they would describe which alternative emotions they would feel if they did not have their problems – if they were happier. And so I ask them to tell me what the opposites of anxiety and fear are to them. Most commonly cited are bravery and confidence. People suffering from exaggerated fears tend to tell themselves that if only they were braver or could muster more confidence they would be happier. Most studies show however that in the face of anxiety and fear it is compassion, solidarity, charity and belonging that inspire true happiness. Perhaps that is
because acting charitable and with compassion towards others – even in times of strife – are inclusive behaviours, whereas fear inspires loneliness.
Throughout their lives – and most enthusiastically practiced during Ramadan – muslims vow to dedicate a whopping ten percent of their annual income to those less fortunate. In fact this leads to the largest recurring redistribution of funds the world has ever seen. Such a system of charitable donations could only ever function if all participants would feel confident to share their wealth with others, in the belief that if they would one day become the less fortunate, all others would do the same to provide for them in return.
Again, wether you are an active participant or a wide-eyed spectator of such undertakings we cannot help but marvel at the noble charitable acts that our host country blankets itself with throughout this month. Some of us may be reminded of similar heart-warming experiences during other seasons of giving such as the spirit of Christmas, Passover or thanksgiving. Research reminds us that the feelings of wonder and joy are roused by giving rather than receiving during all such times. Luck has it that by no means are we limited by something as mundane as a calendar to tell us when to be charitable, we have the freedom to directly affect others’ happiness as well as our own whenever the spirit takes us!
Still not convinced?
If you have yet to jump on the charity bandwagon, consider the purchasing effect. The consistently confirmed purchasing effect describes how we naturally warm up to the things and the people we have spent our money on – or that we have otherwise invested in. Why do you think that after finally making a difficult choice between two purchases, we always tend to feel secure and (excessively?) positive of our final decision? Why is it that we can suddenly and with total confidence state all the positive arguments as to why we indeed have made the right choice just now? Experts tell us that our brains try to avoid a state called cognitive dissonance at all costs and will therefore flood us with warm feelings that are in line with our actions (read: investments). But more on this another time, just remember that the purchasing effect will work for you even if you are aware that such a effect exists: invest charitable in others and you feel automatically feel a closer and more profound connection to them – a simple way of raising your own happiness!
Do you need help?
Are you or someone you know in need of a sympathetic ear or even professional counseling?
Please do not hesitate to contact us directly.
Sasja Breit, Director, Clinical Psychologist.
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