Emotional Health

On the Bright Side: Three Kinds of Advice You Can Safely Ignore

MindfulIllustration by C.A. Martin

Anyone who surfs the web these days cannot avoid articles with “listicles”: “7 Ways to Improve Your Mood” or “8 Things Men Wish You Knew About What They Want in Bed.” Here are three kinds of advice that are found in these lists that you can safely ignore.

1. Be “Mindful” (or else)

These lists are not only annoyingly repetitive, but if you take the time to read them, they are ridiculously oversimplified. Usually they are titled with alluring tags like the “25 Secrets Happy (or successful, wealthy, etc) People Know.”

One of the most popular buzz words in these lists is “mindful.” This word is almost everywhere these days, so much so that it is becoming meaningless. I almost lost my own mind when I saw a sign in a clothing store the other day claiming they were “mindful” of the origin of the seeds of the plants their fabrics came from. What does this mean and how does this translate practically to your life? I wondered if shoppers were being encouraged to feel somehow “enlightened” if we bought this product. The “mindfulness” trope is so widely used that it’s lost some of its essential meaning.  

In any case, some days we could benefit more by forgetting where we are rather than being mindful and aware. Sometimes a good daydream is just what the doctor ordered and can lead to creative insights and perhaps restful pauses from sensory overload.

RELATED: The Elusive Quest for Healthy Self-Esteem


2. Cheer Up, Before It Kills You

Go ahead and be unhappy, it won’t kill you, according to a new study published in The Lancet. Contrary to popular belief, how happy you are probably does not have a direct effect on your physical health. For a long time, we have been warned that a low mood is bad for us and may contribute to illness.  On the contrary, “The new study says earlier research confused cause and effect, suggesting that unhappiness made people ill when it is actually the other way around. Unhappiness itself may not affect health directly, but it can do harm in other ways, by driving people to suicide, alcoholism or other dangerous behaviors.”

Nevertheless, depression can be dangerous. Left untreated, it can lead to alcoholism and suicide, and can even cause physical harm to your brain, as researchers such as Peter Kramer have suggested (and I have written about many times here).

But, plain old unhappiness won’t do you in. You don’t need to add to your worries by fretting that you are killing yourself by being blue once in a while. If we didn’t feel unhappy about certain things, it would be strange. Just as people who can’t feel physical pain are actually in danger, psychological pain can be an important warning sign that something is amiss and needs attention.

RELATED: Finding Peace: An integrative Approach to Healing from Depression

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  • Diane Dettmann April 11, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Thank you, Dr. Pat for your reassuring insights and comments. Your perspective makes so much more sense.

  • Mary F April 11, 2016 at 10:11 am

    I am a long time reader and I just want to note how much I appreciate Dr. Ford’s columns. Her essays are always interesting, insightful, caring and full of common sense – well written too.