Unlearning to be Unhappy
By Miranda Yendrembam
Life often throws you a curveball, often hurting you if it catches you totally off guard. So what do we usually do? Well it depends on a number of factor be it the type of personality, how the person is facing the storm, etc. This leads to a notion called locus of control, in which people assume that they have control over whatever happens in their lives are considered to be internal in locus of control, and those who feel that their live are controlled by powerful others, luck, or fate are considered to be external locus of control. According to Carol Dweck, a famous psychologist stated that that those who believe that intelligence is fixed often demonstrate an external locus of control, assuming that their actions cannot change their circumstances. They are prone to developing learned helplessness, the tendency to stop trying to achieve a goal because past failures xhave led them to believe that they cannot succeed. Their goals involve trying to “look smart” and outperform others (“See, at least I did better than she did”). They tend to give up easily or try to avoid situations in which they might fail, often ensuring their own failure when doing so. For example, how many students, when faced with a challenging task like a major test, end up avoiding coming to class, delaying any start on studying or writing until the last minute, or even developing some long lasting illness that prevents them from having to face the challenge (at least for a while)?
This does not mean that students with this view of intelligence are always unsuccessful. In fact, students who have had a long history of successes that led them to believe in their own fixed intelligence. For example, a child who had never earned anything less than an “90%” in school who then receives his first “60-70%” might become depressed and refuse to do any more homework, ensuring future failure.
On the other hand, those who believe that intelligence is changeable show an internal locus of control and believe that their own actions and efforts will improve their intelligence; they work at developing new strategies and get involved in new tasks, with the goal of increasing their “smarts.” They are motivated to master tasks and don’t allow failure to destroy their confidence in themselves or prevent them from trying again and again, using new strategies each time.
Focusing on internal locus of control makes a person less susceptible to mental health issues whereas if a person keeps on blaming the other uncontrollable factors in his life then it becomes very difficult for the person to be happy in life. A lot depends on the kind of coping strategies a person uses to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize the effects of stressors, and they can include both behavioral and psychological strategies.
Coping Strategies are mainly of two ways- one type is to work on eliminating or changing the stressor itself. When people try to eliminate the source of a stress or reduce its impact through their own actions, it is called problem-solving. For example, a student might have a problem understanding the concepts of the course in a way that this student can understand. Problem-focused might include talking to the teacher after class, asking fellow students to clarify the concepts, getting a tutor, or forming a study group with other students who are also having difficulty to pool the group’s resources.
The other type is the emotion-focused coping is a strategy that involves changing the way a person feels or emotionally reacts to a stressor and makes it possible to deal with the problem effectively. For example, the student who is faced with the teacher who isn’t easy to understand might share his concerns with a friend, talking it through until calm enough to tackle the problem in a more direct manner. Emotion focused coping also works for stressors that are uncontrollable and for which problem-focused coping is not possible. Someone using emotion-focused coping may decide to view the stressors as a challenge rather than a threat, decide that the problem is a minor one, write down concerns in a journal, or even ignore the problem altogether. Ignoring a problem is not a good strategy when there is something a person can actively do to solving the problem. But when its is not possible to change or eliminate the stressor, or when worrying about the stressor can be a problem itself, ignoring the problem is not a bad idea.
Using humor can also be a form of emotion-focused coping, as the old saying “laughter is the best medicine” suggests. As studies had shown that the effects of laughter boosted the action of immune system by increasing the work of natural killer cells.
Its mundane to let a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness hamper our lives for every phase in life doesn’t remain the same. To feel the positivity, one has to face the unpleasantness of negativity otherwise the very meaning of positive would be of a no worth. Otherwise how can anyone be aware of happiness if one has never known to be sad?
(The author is a Clinical Psychologist and a Research Scholar at Department of Anthropology, Manipur University.)
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