Here’s something none of us ever do: berate ourselves for something we said or did, challenge our abilities and worth, tell ourselves that we suck and that our problems would be solved if only we were like some other seemingly-perfect person.
Aristotle once famously said that “a friend is another self.” To this we might humbly add: “the self should be another friend.” Selfishness that harms others is obviously bad, but there is a good and necessary form of self-love without which we cannot be happy.
Last summer I came across a good article on the matter: “Self-Help for Skeptics: Train Your Brain to Be Positive, and Feel Happier Every Day: It Only Sounds Corny” (WSJ, 8/27/12). Corny is the understatement, but it’s worth reading.
Our brains contain both optimistic and a pessimistic circuits. “Fear, rooted in the amygdala, helps us identify and respond to threats and is at the root of pessimism. Optimism, in contrast, is rooted in the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure center, which responds to food, sex and other healthy, good things in life,” the author notes.
Studies have found that “to enjoy life and feel good, people need roughly four positive emotions to counteract the effect of one negative emotion… People who experience life as drudgery had two or even one positive emotion for every negative one.” People who stay attuned to the positive put mistakes and problems in perspective; “they don’t compound their misery by beating themselves up over every unfortunate accident or mistake.”
The article contains some cute examples of people befriending themselves–everything from sending themselves a valentine, to keeping a gratitude journal, to one guy who frequently peruses a file he calls “My Raving Fans,” containing appreciative letters and cards from clients. His best remedy for pessimism: spending time helping friends with their problems. “It’s amazing how five minutes of working on someone else’s problems makes my own disappear.”
If you’ve become your own worst enemy, perhaps it’s time for a little self-compassion. What was Stuart Smalley’s line again? “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And gosh darn it, people like me!” Have a great day.