This article tells a lot of stories about people who used to worry a lot but managed to get out of the habit, many of them finding better ways of dealing with problems, ways other people who worry a lot could adopt. It also gives advice on handling worries and similar things, and on ways of relaxing.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
We consume our tomorrows fretting about our yesterdays.
There is a great difference between worry and concern. A worried person sees a problem, and a concerned person solves a problem.
I have lost everything, and I am so poor now that I really cannot afford to let anything worry me.
It makes no sense to worry about things you have no control over because there's nothing you can do about them, and why worry about things you do control? The activity of worrying keeps you immobilized.
--Dr Wayne Dyer
It only seems as if you are doing something when you're worrying.
--Lucy Maud Montgomery
Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.
Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.
I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time.
--Charlie Brown (Charles Schulz)
Worry a little bit every day and in a lifetime you will lose a couple of years. If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.
Some people think they are concentrating when they're merely worrying.
--Bobby Tyre Jones
Worriers spend a lot of time shoveling smoke.
One cannot change the past, but one can ruin the present by worrying over the future.
This self-help book starts off with an interesting story! It says there was a medical student in 1871 called William Osier who was worrying and worrying about whether he'd pass his exams and whether he could make a decent career for himself afterwards, and it might have disrupted his concentration so he didn't do so well. But then he read just one twenty-one word sentence by Thomas Carlyle in a book, and those few words changed his life so much that he became really successful, ended up with all kinds of influential career positions, like starting a medical school and becoming a professor at Oxford University, and he was even knighted by the king - it must have been one of the Georges, or was it an Edward? Anyway, the book says he did all these great things, and he always said that what had given him the strength and inspiration to achieve them was just those twenty-one little words he read that night when he was a student. The sentence said:
"Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."
I think he must have thought it meant that we shouldn't spend time worrying about what might or might not happen in the future, but we should concentrate on doing the best we can today.
The book says that during a lecture he gave at Yale university later in life, he said that all his achievements weren't because he had better brains than anyone else- he said he didn't. But he said he'd been able to achieve all those things because he'd learned not to spend his time worrying. He said he'd recently been on a ship where the captain could press a button and immediately, great metal curtains would come down in several parts of the ship, cutting them off from one another, so if it started to sink because the water started coming in, the water wouldn't be able to flow through the ship flooding one compartment after another, because the metal curtains would have closed off a lot of it.
He recommended that people imagine themselves as being a bit like that ship, only much more sophisticated and on a much longer journey. He said that worries about the past and the future could flood our minds just as water could flood a ship, ruining the work of today. So he said people should learn to shut worries off, just as effectively as if a metal curtain had come down and blocked them off. He said that trying to work through the day hampered by worries about the past combined with worries about the future could "make the strongest falter".
The book says he didn't mean we shouldn't make efforts to prepare for the future. But he said that the best possible way to prepare for the future is to "concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm, on doing today's work superbly today".
The book mentions the Lord's Prayer, saying it doesn't recommend that people grumble about the stale bread they might have eaten yesterday or express a load of worries about where the bread's going to come from in the future, but simply asks for bread today. It says Jesus would have lived at a time when the supply of bread would have been much less certain than it is in rich countries today, and yet another verse in the gospels says he advised people not to be anxious about the future. An old Bible translation quoted him as recommending that people didn't give a thought about the future, but the worry book says that in the old days, people would have understood that as meaning don't be anxious about it. It says that's a more accurate way of understanding what he meant, and modern Bible translations translate him as saying that.
The book says some people have rejected the Bible verse, thinking it meant don't think about and plan for the future. They say they have to save money for their old age and plan to improve their careers and so on. But Jesus didn't mean people shouldn't do things like that, just that people shouldn't be full of worry about it. People can plan very carefully for their futures without worrying.
The book says that during the Second World War, military leaders planned for the future, but they typically didn't spend time worrying. It says that the one who directed American naval operations said he wouldn't be able to do his job if he worried about things. He said he'd supplied the best men with the best equipment he could, and given them what seemed to be the best orders. But he couldn't do any more. If a ship got sunk, there wasn't anything he could do to bring it back, and if one was about to be sunk, there wasn't anything he could do to stop it. He said he could spend his time much better planning how to direct operations as best as he could than he would if he spent it getting anxious about things that hadn't gone well. And if he got upset about everything, he just wouldn't be able to stand the job and cope with anything.
The book says that whether in war or peacetime, the main difference between good and bad thinking is that good thinking has a systematic approach to looking at causes and effects of problems and how they can be solved, but bad thinking just frets about things and can lead to tension and nervous breakdowns.
The author says he spoke to the man who was publishing the New York Times during World War II, who said he got so worried about the future that he couldn't sleep. He would get up in the middle of the night and paint pictures to try to take his mind off things. But he didn't beat his worry problem till he decided to adopt a five-word phrase from a well-known hymn as his motto: "One step enough for me".
The book says a small part of the hymn goes:
Lead, kindly Light...
Keep thou my feet: I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
That seems similar to the idea of imagining a metal curtain's coming down to block out worries about the past and the future so you can concentrate all your attention on doing the best you can now.
The book says that someone closer to the battlefield was learning something similar around then. He said he was sure he'd have had a physical breakdown if the war had carried on longer, because of all the worrying he did. He said that part of his job was the responsibility of sending personal effects home to the families of men who'd been killed, things he knew they were bound to treasure, and he was always worrying he was making mistakes and sending the wrong things. He also worried that he might get killed and never live to hold his toddler son whom he'd never seen. He said he'd worried himself into a state of combat fatigue, and he had something like irritable bowel syndrome that was causing him a lot of pain. He said he was so worried and exhausted that he lost a lot of weight, and nearly went insane. And he worried about going home looking the way he did. He started to become tearful a lot.
He said an army doctor gave him some advice that completely changed his life. He told him his troubles were all mental, and he could help himself by thinking of his life as an hourglass, which has thousands of grains of sand in the top to start with, and they all have to pass slowly and evenly through the neck in the narrow middle to get to the bottom. They have to go one at a time, and anything done to try to make them go faster or more than one at a time will damage the hourglass. He said that everyone's like an hourglass - we all wake up in the morning knowing there are possibly hundreds of tasks to be done in the day. But if we don't take them one at a time and allow them to pass through the day slowly and evenly like the sand through the hourglass, we're bound to break our own mental or physical structure.
The book says the man who'd been ill said he'd practiced that philosophy ever since, and it had saved him mentally and physically during the war, and afterwards when he rose up the career ladder. He said he found that in business, lots of things had to be done with not much time to do them, but by often repeating the words he'd got from the army doctor, "One grain of sand at a time. One task at a time", he managed to organise himself so he didn't get tense and nervous, but did things one by one in a more efficient way, without the confused and jumbled feeling that had caused him so many problems during the war.
Actually, I heard of someone who always used to get stressed at the end of the day because she was fretting about all the things she hadn't done, but she started writing 'to-do' lists at the beginning of the day, planning and prioritising what she had to do, and then working through one item at a time; and she found she got things done more efficiently that way.
The book says that a helpful way of looking at things can be not to flounder in worry about all the tasks that have to be done in the future, but to set a goal, thinking we'll do the best we can until bedtime, or that we'll be content with our lot for the rest of the day. Then the next day, if we want, we can set that goal again. But we'll have the choice.
That means we don't have all that much to aim for in any one go, so what we're aiming for in just the hours till bedtime will seem a lot more achievable.
Actually, sometimes I think of something I have to do, and it seems daunting and I wonder how I'll ever have the energy to finish it. But then I decide to break the time up. I tell myself that I'll just work for the next hour or half an hour, and then relax for a while if I want or do whatever I decide. I find I can feel far more motivated to work if I have that to aim for, and can see the end of a block of work in sight, than if I just think it stretches away into the future.
The author says a church minister told him he had intense stomach pains at one time, that were so bad they woke him up at night. He'd watched his father die of stomach cancer, and he was sure he must have that or stomach ulcers. But a specialist examined him and said there was nothing physically wrong with him so it must just be emotional strain. He asked the church minister if it was possible to cut down his responsibilities. The minister had been doing several activities, and always felt under pressure, never feeling he could relax. He felt tense, hurried and highly-strung. He was worrying so much that he was always in a state.
He said he was in such pain that he gladly took the doctor's advice, cutting down his responsibilities and taking Mondays off.
He says one day, he got an idea that turned out to be very helpful. He was clearing out his desk, throwing away old sermon notes and memos he didn't need any more. Suddenly, he stopped and thought, "Why don't I do the same thing with old worries that I'm doing with these old papers? I don't need them, so why don't I just throw them away?" He decided to do just that.
He said it was as if a weight had lifted from his shoulders. He said that after that, he made it a rule never to worry about problems he could no longer do anything about.
Then one day, while he was drying the dishes as his wife was washing them, he got another idea. His wife was singing and happy. He wondered how different her attitude to washing dishes would have been if on the day they married, she had envisioned all the dishes she'd have to wash over all the years they were married. They'd already been married for eighteen years. He imagined that the amount of dishes she'd have to wash over all that time might have looked bigger than a barn! He realised the reason she didn't mind washing the dishes was because she only thought about washing one day's dishes at any one time.
He suddenly realised what his problem was. It was as if he'd been trying to wash yesterday's dishes and today's dishes and ones stretching right into the future that hadn't even been made dirty yet. He felt foolish. He realised he stood in the pulpit week after week telling people how to live, and yet he himself was leading a tense, worried, hurried life. He said he felt ashamed. So he decided to change, and not worry over the future and the past any more.
He said that since then, he focused on the present. His stomach pains were cured, and he no longer had the insomnia he'd had before.
The Man Who Learned that Waiting for Time to Solve Worry Problems Brought Peace of Mind
The author tells the story of a man who said he lost the best years of his life - those between the ages of 18 and 28 - worrying. He said he can only blame himself. He said he worried over everything - his job, his health, his family, and his feeling of inferiority. He said that he'd cross the road to avoid meeting people he knew. when he met a friend on the street, he'd often pretend not to notice him for fear the friend would snub him. He said he was so terrified of meeting strangers that he missed out on three potential jobs within the space of a fortnight, because he didn't have the courage to tell the interviewers what he knew he could do.
But he said he cured his worry problem in one afternoon, and had only rarely worried in the eight years since. He said he was in the office of a man who'd had far more troubles than he'd ever had, and yet he was one of the most cheerful men he'd ever known. He'd made a fortune in 1929 and lost it all. He'd made another fortune a few years later and lost that; and another one in 1939 and lost that. He'd gone through bankruptcy and had been hounded by creditors and enemies. He'd had troubles that would have driven some men to suicide, but he didn't seem bothered by them.
The man telling the story said that at first, he envied the man and wished that God had made him like him. Then, the man threw him a letter that he'd received that morning and told him to read it. It was an angry letter asking several embarrassing questions. He said if he'd received a letter like that himself, it would have sent him up into the heights of anxiety.
He asked the man how he was going to answer it. And the man gave him a piece of advice, saying,
"I'll tell you a little secret. Next time you've really got something to worry about, take a pencil and a piece of paper, and sit down and write out in detail just what's worrying you. Then put that piece of paper in the lower right-hand drawer of your desk. Wait a couple of weeks, and then look at it. If what you wrote down still worries you when you read it, put that piece of paper back in your lower right-hand drawer. Let it sit there for another two weeks. It will be safe there. Nothing will happen to it. But in the meantime, a lot may happen to the problem that is worrying you. I have found that, if only I have patience, the worry that is trying to harass me will often collapse like a pricked balloon."
The man who'd driven himself frantic with worry before said the advice made a great impression on him. He'd used it ever since, and as a consequence, rarely worried about anything.
The book tells the story of a woman who it says was driven to despair and even contemplated suicide before her life was turned right around when she learned to live in the present. It says she was very upset after her husband died and hardly had any money, so she wrote to her former employer asking if she could have her old job back, thinking it would help. She got the job. But it was one where she had to do a lot of travelling on her own, and she got very lonely because of the lack of companionship, and more and more depressed. Her job was selling books, and in places in the countryside where there weren't many people, she didn't sell many, so she hardly made enough money to keep her car running.
She got so depressed that she ended up thinking she didn't have anything to live for. Getting up was a struggle, because she didn't want to face the day. She felt as if it would be impossible to succeed. For a while, she thought about committing suicide.
As well as feeling depressed, she became frightened of everything - scared she wouldn't be able to pay her room rent or pay to keep her car going, frightened her health was failing and she wouldn't have the money to pay for a doctor, and afraid she wouldn't have enough to eat. She said the only things that stopped her committing suicide were the thought that her sister would be very upset, and the worry that she didn't have enough money to pay her funeral expenses.
But then one day, she read an article, and reading one sentence in particular changed her life completely, lifting her out of her depression and giving her the courage to carry on. The sentence said:
"Every day is a new life to a wise man".
I suppose that's a bit like the sentence, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life".
The book says the woman said she wrote the sentence out and stuck it in her car where she'd often read it to remind herself of it. She said it completely changed her attitude. She managed to stop being afraid of the things that had worried her so much before - she said she wasn't afraid of anything anymore - not afraid of going hungry, being unable to pay bills, being lonely, or anything, because living one day at a time seemed much less daunting than living with the burden of worrying about what might happen in the future and feeling depressed because of brooding on what had happened before.
She said she'd become happy and enthusiastic about life, and quite successful. She said that for a while, every morning when she woke up, she said to herself, "Today is a new life."
The author says it's a great shame that so many people put off making the most of life in the present, thinking they'll wait till the future, which they might never see, or if they do, they might look back with grief at all the time they missed out on because they were too busy worrying about the future to take the opportunities life holds in the present.
He tells the story of a man who longed to start his own business, but he was cautious and thought it best to hold on to his job for years before trying it. When he did start it though, it was really successful. But it was ruined quickly, because he offered to be responsible for a friend's debts and the friend went bankrupt, and then soon afterwards, the bank he had all his money in collapsed, and he not only lost all the money he had, but ended up with a large debt.
He said his nerves couldn't take it. He couldn't eat or sleep, and he became ill, but it was only worry causing the illness.
He said that one day, he collapsed, and couldn't walk any more. He was put to bed, and broke out in boils, which turned inward until just lying in bed was agony. He grew weaker every day. Eventually, the doctor said he only had two weeks to live.
That was the turning point. At first, he was shocked, and wrote his will. But then he considered that there wasn't any point in worrying any more, since his problems were coming to an end, so he may as well just lie back, relax and wait for his end. He relaxed and fell asleep. He hadn't slept for two hours in succession for weeks, but now he slept like a baby.
He said his exhausting tiredness began to disappear, his appetite came back, and he began to put on weight. A few weeks later, he could walk with crutches. Just six weeks later, he was able to go back to work.
He said he got a job where he was earning much, much less than he had been before, doing a much less high-powered job. But he was just glad to have a job. He decided he'd learned his lesson; he wasn't going to worry anymore, either to wallow in regrets about the past or to dread the future. He just put all his concentration and energies into doing as well as he could at the job he had. In fact, he did it so well that he earned promotion after promotion, and in a few years was president of the company. It was successful, and he even had an air field named in his honour. The author says he wouldn't have been able to achieve nearly as much if he'd carried on spending his time bogged down in regrets about the past and worries for the future.
The author quotes a French philosopher as having said, "My life has been full of terrible misfortunes ... most of which have never happened".
He quotes Dante as having said, "Think that this day will never dawn again". He says life is slipping away with incredible speed, and we ought to resolve today that from now on, we'll try to make the most of every day so we don't miss it, since we can't get it back. It's a precious possession.
The author says that the man who started the air conditioning industry once told him that when he was a young man working for someone else, rather than being the boss of his own company, he was told to fit some equipment in the premises of another company, and he was worried, because it was new equipment, and he discovered it didn't work as well as his company had hoped. He felt like a failure, and was so anxious that his stomach was really churning, and he couldn't sleep for a while.
But he said that then, common sense reminded him that worrying wasn't solving anything, and he set his mind to working out a way he could solve the problem. He said he found one, and it turned out to work really well, and he's been using it ever since.
He said he decided to try to eliminate his worries in three stages:
The first would be to analyse the problem as fearlessly and honestly as possible, and ask himself what was the worst thing that could happen because the machinery he'd fitted didn't work that well.
He considered the fact that no one was going to jail him or shoot him because of it. It was just possible that he'd lose his position in the company, or that they would have to take the machinery away and lose the twenty thousand dollars they'd invested in the equipment.
He said the second step was to come around to the idea of accepting the worst, if he should have to. He thought to himself,
"OK, it'll be a blot on my record, and I might even lose my job. Well, if I do lose it, I can always get another one. Things could be a lot worse - at least there are a lot of jobs around at the moment.
And if my employers do lose that money, they can stand it. They know we were experimenting with the equipment because it's new and they weren't sure it would work. They can charge it up to research, since it was an experiment."
He said that after bringing himself around to accepting the worst that could happen, if he had to, he found himself immediately relaxing and feeling a sense of peace that he hadn't experienced in days.
He said the final step was to make plans to stop the worst happening, if possible, or to stop its effects from being as bad as they could be if it did. So he set to work planning how that could be done. He did some tests to try to find a way of reducing the amount of money they'd lose because they'd spent it on the inefficient equipment. He worked out that if they bought some other equipment, the problem would be solved. It cost five thousand dollars, but it caused things to work more efficiently, so eventually, instead of losing twenty thousand dollars, they actually made fifteen thousand.
He said he didn't believe he'd have been able to do that if he'd still been worrying, since one of the worst things about worry is that it stops people concentrating. The mind jumps here, there and everywhere, and so it's impossible to come to any decision. But he said that when we force ourselves to face the worst that could happen and accept that we'll have to cope with it if necessary, we stop our minds from floundering around in vague imaginings, so they're free to concentrate on working out what to do to solve the problem.So his steps to solving worry problems basically went:
The man said that he called that technique his "magic formula" for solving worries, because it worked so well that time with the machinery that he'd used it ever since, over years.
The book says that someone it calls the "father of applied psychology" who died in 1910, advised the students he taught that acceptance of what had happened was the first step to recovery. It says he said to them:
"Be willing to have it so. ... Acceptance of what has happened is the first step in overcoming the consequences of any misfortune."
The author quotes a Chinese philosopher as having said,
"True peace of mind comes from accepting the worst. Psychologically, I think, it means a release of energy."
How an Oil Dealer Coped With Worries About Blackmail Threats
The author tells the story of an oil dealer he knew, who got really worried for a while when someone tried to blackmail him. He said he owned an oil company, and during the Second World War, oil was rationed. It turned out that some of the delivery drivers were delivering less than they should have done to the company's customers, and selling the oil they had left over because of that to other people on the black market. But the first he ever knew of it was when someone who claimed to be a government inspector came to his office and said he had documents that proved it, and if he didn't give him five thousand dollars to keep quiet, he'd give the documents to the authorities.
He told the man he needed a few days to make a decision. He got really worried about it, so worried he was sick. He knew he couldn't be prosecuted personally, but he knew that since the law says a firm is responsible for the actions of its employees, the company would look really bad if it came to court and the case got into the newspapers, and people might stop doing business with them so the company might go out of business. He was upset about that, because he was proud of the firm, since his father had started it.
He said he couldn't eat or sleep for three days and nights. He said his mind was just going round in circles, first thinking of how terrible it would be if he didn't pay, and then thinking about how terrible it would be if he did. So he couldn't make up his mind what to do.
Then on the Sunday evening, he picked up a previous version of this book on worrying, and came across the story of the engineer who came up with a way to stop himself worrying, by first trying to reach a sensible conclusion about what the worst could be, then reconciling himself to accepting it if he had to, and then thinking about how he could stop it being so bad.
So he decided to do the same. First, he asked himself what the worst could be, and decided that the worst could be the ruin of his business, but he personally wouldn't be imprisoned.
Then, he said to himself, "OK, I'll imagine the business has been ruined. I'll accept it. Now what? How do I pick myself up?"
He considered that he'd have to get a job, but he didn't think that would be hard, since he knew a lot about oil, so he thought lots of firms might be glad to employ him.
This line of thinking made him feel relieved, so the tension he'd been suffering for the past few days lifted a bit, and he found he could think more clearly. When he'd been in a high state of emotion, he'd found it impossible to think clearly, but now his emotions were calming down, he could.
Now he could think more clearly, he decided to put the last step of the engineer's "magic formula" into operation and ask himself how he could try to stop the worst from happening.
As he thought of possible solutions, it occurred to him that he could tell his lawyer what had happened and see if the lawyer could think of a way out. He said it might sound stupid that he hadn't thought of that before, but he hadn't been thinking clearly before, just worrying.
He decided to see his lawyer about it first thing the next morning. Then he went to bed and slept soundly.
The next day, his lawyer advised him to go and tell the figure in authority who the blackmailer had threatened to report him to what had happened. He did, and when he'd finished the story, he was astonished to hear that the man already knew all about it - the blackmail racket had been going on for months, and the blackmailer was not a government worker but was in fact a known criminal who was wanted by the police!
He was relieved to hear that, after he'd tormented himself with worry all weekend about it!
He said the experience taught him a lesson, and from then on, when a problem threatened to worry him, he always used that three-step process on it.
The author tells the story of a man who said he had a serious problem with stomach ulcers in the 1920s, and he believes it was brought on by worry. He said he lost a lot of weight, and after some serious internal bleeding, he was taken into hospital. He says some doctors, including a famous ulcer specialist, said his problem was incurable. They said he had to live on very small but regular amounts of fluids; and every night and morning, a nurse had to put a rubber tube down into his stomach and pump out the contents of it.
He said this went on for months. But finally, he thought, "Look here! If the only thing I've got to look forward to is a lingering death, I may as well at least make the most of the little time I've got left! I've always wanted to travel around the world before I die, so if I'm ever going to do it, I'd better do it now!"
He said that when he told his doctors he was going to travel around the world and pump out his own stomach twice a day, they were shocked, and didn't believe it could be done. They warned him he'd be buried at sea if he went. But he said he wouldn't, because he'd take his own coffin with him so it could be brought back and he could be buried with other family members. He arranged with the shipping company to have his body frozen till they arrived back if he died.
He boarded the ship resolved to make the most of the time he had left. And as soon as he boarded, he felt better.
He said he gradually gave up his medication and stomach pump, and soon, he was eating all kinds of things, even spicy native concoctions that the doctors would have thought would have been guaranteed to kill him. He said he enjoyed himself more than he had in years! He played games, made new friends, and stayed up half the night having fun. He said the ship ran into storms that should have frightened him to death, but instead, he thought they were a great adventure.
He said that when they got to India and China, he realised that the business worries that had seemed so important to him back home were paradise compared with all the poverty and hunger around. He stopped all his pointless worrying and felt fine. He said when he got back home, he'd gained 90 pounds in weight, and had almost forgotten he'd ever had a stomach ulcer. He'd never felt better in his life. He said he went back to business, and wasn't ill a day after that.
The author says the man was really putting the same formula the engineer used into operation: First, he realised that the worst he was facing was death. Then, he prepared himself to face it - he had no choice, since the doctors had said he had no hope of recovery. Then, he tried to improve the situation by deciding to make the most of the time he had left.
He said that if he'd carried on worrying after he got on the ship, he feels sure he'd have been making the return journey in his coffin. But he relaxed and forgot all his troubles, and he said the calmness of mind that resulted gave him a fresh burst of energy which saved his life.
Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.
We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.
The author quotes someone called Dr Alexis Carrel, who he says was a Nobel prize winner in medicine, who said, "Businessmen who do not know how to fight worry die young."
The author points out that that's bound to be just as true for anyone else. He says he spent a holiday travelling with an important doctor, who said he thought seventy per cent of the people who went to their doctors could cure themselves if they only managed to get rid of their worries and fears! He said that didn't mean their problems were imaginary, but that worry actually gives people physical problems. He mentioned problems like nervous indigestion, some stomach ulcers, some heart problems, some headaches, some insomnia, and some types of paralysis. He said that when people are tense and nervous all the time, it can change the composition of the gastric juices in their stomachs so they're more likely to get stomach ulcers.
I'm not sure how accurate this information is, since it was so long ago when this book was written, but I know that some modern doctors/psychologists are still saying stress and worry causes a lot of physical effects.
The book says a doctor at the Mayo Clinic said that stomach ulcers often flare up when a person's stressed, and subside at times in their life when they calm down again. He says the Mayo Clinic did a survey of fifteen thousand people with stomach problems and couldn't find anything physically wrong with them in four out of five cases. I don't know if they'd have found things wrong with more of them now techniques for diagnosing problems are more sophisticated, but he says they thought that "Fear, worry, hate, supreme selfishness, and the inability to adjust themselves to the world of reality-- these were largely the causes of their stomach illnesses and stomach ulcers".
How Stopping Worrying Cured a General in the American Civil War of a Painful Sick Headache
The author says a general in the American Civil War told the story of how near the end of it, his men were chasing and bombarding the Confederate soldiers who'd escaped from a town where they'd been under siege for months, and the general fell behind his army because he had a very painful sick headache. He said he stopped at a farmhouse all night, hoping he could make it go away. But it carried on all night. The next morning, however, it went away immediately, when someone came and gave him a note that said the other side wanted to surrender.
The author says it's obvious his headache was caused by his tension and worry and other emotions; as soon as his emotions changed on reading the letter, it disappeared.
The author says that years later, the Secretary of the Treasury in the government of the president Franklin Roosevelt said he got so worried one day when the president bought millions of bushels of wheat to make the price go up that he got really dizzy, and had to leave and go to bed for a couple of hours.
The author says he can see what worry does to people in his own neighbourhood. He says there's one house where worry caused a nervous breakdown, and another where someone's diabetes came on when his shares started doing badly on the stock market. I wonder if it could have been comfort eating that triggered it off then.
He says that worry can sometimes be the cause of arthritis and even end up putting people in a wheelchair with it. He says a famous arthritis specialist said that four of the most common things that bring on arthritis are marriage breakdown, financial disaster and grief, loneliness and worry, and long-cherished resentments.
The author says that those things clearly won't be the only causes of arthritis, since there are many different types of arthritis; but they have been said to be the commonest causes.
He says that during the depression in the 1930s, a friend of his got into so much financial difficulty that his gas supply was cut off and he couldn't pay the mortgage. His wife suddenly had a painful attack of arthritis, and neither medicine or diets did any good; but when their financial situation improved, it went away.
The author tells of a dentist who said he thought worry and other unpleasant emotions could even cause tooth decay, by disrupting the body's calcium levels. He said he'd had a patient who had a perfect set of teeth till he started worrying about his wife's sudden illness, and in the three weeks she was in the hospital, he developed nine cavities.
I would have thought that behaviour change might have had a bit to do with that as well, like maybe eating junk instead of his wife's cooking, and perhaps eating lots of sugary food for comfort and to try to distract himself from his worries, and maybe not looking after his teeth so well because he was too worried to pay them attention, perhaps. Still, it does seem to have happened quickly. Surely people can do things like that for years and not need that many fillings. I don't know how the dentist knew the man's teeth started deteriorating when his wife went into hospital and not before.
The author says he interviewed the film star Merle Oberon, who said she'd decided never to worry again, because it would ruin the thing most important to her career - her good looks. She said that when she first tried to get into film acting, she was worried and scared, because she didn't know anyone and she'd been interviewed by a few film producers but they hadn't taken her on, and the little money she had was running out. In fact, for two weeks, she lived on nothing but crackers and water. She began to think she'd been foolish for thinking she could have a film career, because she had no experience of acting; she had nothing to offer but quite a pretty face. Then, she went to the mirror, and discovered her face didn't even look so pretty anymore; the worry was forming lines on it, and her expression was anxious. So she told herself she needed to stop worrying at once! It was beginning to ruin the only asset she had to offer - her good looks.
The author says that there aren't many things that can make a woman age and sour and destroy her good looks as quickly as worry. He says it ruins the expression, making people clench their jaws and form a permanent scowl. It lines faces with wrinkles. It can turn hair grey and sometimes even make it fall out. It can ruin the complexion and bring on a variety of skin complaints.
The author says that it was calculated that at the same time that almost a third of a million American men died in combat in the Second World War, two million American civilians died of heart disease, and half of those died of the type that can be brought on by worry and high-tension living.
The author says he thinks we can all banish worry from our lives. He says a woman told him she managed to do that when she was told she was dying of cancer, and she believes it was partly what cured her. She said she was diagnosed with cancer, and the diagnosis was confirmed by the Mayo brothers, who were reputed to be the best medical brains in the country. She was young and didn't want to die. She phoned her doctor and cried out to him in despair. She said he rather impatiently said to her,
"What's the matter? Haven't you got any fight in you? Yes, you will die if you carry on crying! The worst has overtaken you. Now face the facts. Stop worrying, and do something about it!"
She said that then and there, she took a solemn oath not to worry or cry anymore, but that if there was anything to mind over matter, she was going to beat the cancer; she was going to live!
She said she was given many doses of radiation treatment, till she looked emaciated and drained, but she didn't worry or cry once, and even made herself smile. She said she wasn't so idiotic as to believe that doing that was what cured her; but she said she did believe that having a cheerful mental attitude helps the body fight disease, and she was sure that what turned her chances of survival around were those challenging words she heard from the doctor: "Face the facts: Quit worrying; then do something about it!"
She said that recently, she'd been the healthiest she'd ever been, and she thought those words had caused that to happen.
Actually, I've heard of research that found that the people least worried and scared recovered most quickly after operations, and that people with cancer who have upbeat attitudes tend to survive the longest.
The Man Whose Broken Ribs Healed Much Faster When He Stopped Worrying
The author says someone told him the story of how during the Second World War, he was training off the Hawaiian islands, when he had an accident. He'd been getting ready to jump off a barge when a big wave lifted up the barge and knocked him off balance and threw him onto the beach, where he landed so violently for some reason that he broke three ribs, and one of them punctured one of his lungs.
He was taken to hospital. But after three months, the doctors said he showed absolutely no improvement. He was shocked. After a good think, he thought that worry must be preventing him from getting better. He'd been used to leading an active life, and yet for the past few months, he'd been able to do nothing but lie in bed all day and think. So he'd started to worry and worry: He worried about whether he'd be able to do anything worthwhile in life; he worried about whether he'd be a cripple all his life; and he worried about whether he'd ever be able to get married and live a normal life.
He persuaded his doctor to move him up to the next ward, where the patients were allowed to do almost anything they wanted to do. There was a much livelier atmosphere.
While he was on that ward, he learned to play bridge, and became an enthusiastic player, playing it almost every evening. He also became interested in oil painting, and someone instructed him in it every afternoon. He also tried soap and wood carving, and read some books on it that he found very interesting.
He said he kept himself so busy he had no time to worry about his physical condition. He even had time to read books on psychology that the Red Cross gave him.
He said that at the end of three months, all the medical staff came to him and congratulated him on making "an amazing improvement". He was very happy about that.
He said that when he had nothing to do but lie on his back and worry, he made no improvement at all. He even goes so far as to say he thinks he was "poisoning" his body with worry. Nothing would heal. But as soon as he got his mind off himself by doing all the activities he did in the other ward, he started to make this "amazing improvement".
He said that since then, he'd been able to lead a normal life again, completely healed.
The author says a salesman told him there was a time when he was forever worrying, and he was depressed and ill. The doctors said he had stomach ulcers and put him on a diet of milk and eggs. Eventually, he couldn't stand the diet any more. But he hadn't got better.
One day, he read an article about cancer and became convinced that he must have it. He said he imagined he had every symptom. He said he wasn't just worried anymore; he was terrified; and he said it made his stomach ulcers flare up like a fire. He said to make things even worse, he was rejected by the army as physically unfit at the age of only 24. It seemed he was a physical wreck when he should have been at his strongest.
I don't understand why thinking he had cancer made him feel terrified, and yet he seems to have been perfectly happy to try to get into the army where he could end up being bombed and shot at day after day, and maimed or otherwise seriously injured or killed. Strange.
Anyway, he said he felt hopeless and despairing. But he tried to analyse how he'd got himself into such a terrible condition.
He said that slowly, he realised what had gone wrong. Only two years before, he'd been happy and healthy working as a salesman. But wartime shortages meant there wasn't enough for him to sell, so he gave up that job and went and worked in a factory. He hated the job. But worst, he found himself mixing with the most negative thinkers he'd ever known. They were full of bitterness, cursing and condemning the job, the pay, the working hours, the boss, and everything else. He realised he'd unconsciously absorbed their vindictive way of thinking. He slowly became more and more convinced that his stomach complaints had been brought on by his own bitter emotions and negative thoughts. So he decided to go back to the work he liked, selling, and make a deliberate effort to find people who thought positive, constructive thoughts to mix with.
He said he did just that, seeking out friends and business associates who were progressive thinkers, cheerful, optimistic and free from worry.
He said he thinks doing that saved his life. He said as soon as he changed his emotions, his stomach changed. He no longer had stomach problems, and it wasn't long before he'd forgotten he'd ever been diagnosed with stomach ulcers. He realised that you can catch health, happiness and success from others just as easily as you can catch worries, bitterness and failure. He said he thought it was the most important lesson he'd ever learned. He said he'd read that that could happen, but only when it happened to him did the lesson sink in.
The author says there isn't a single formula for solving all worry problems, because there are several different types. But a good way of calming a lot of worries is to take three steps:
He says that without getting the facts first before trying to solve problems, people will flounder around in worry and confusion not knowing what to do. He says that someone who'd been the dean of a university for over twenty years told him he'd helped thousands and thousands of students solve their worry problems. He said he thought that confusion was the main cause of worry. He said he thought half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions without enough knowledge to be able to make them properly. He said that if he has a problem that has to be faced by three o'clock next Tuesday, for example, he won't even attempt to make a decision about it till next Tuesday arrives. He said that in the meantime, he would concentrate on getting all the facts he could that were relevant to the problem he was facing. He wouldn't worry, wouldn't lose any sleep, but would just concentrate on getting as many facts as he could. And he said that when he did, by Tuesday, the problem had usually solved itself in the light of them!
He said he thought his life was almost entirely free from worry because he did that. He said he believed that when people devote their time to collecting facts in an impartial way, their worries tend to disappear when they have more knowledge about the situation.
But the author says that can be difficult, because most people just look for the facts that fit with what they want to hear, not with what will genuinely be best for them.
So he advises that people try to keep their emotions out of their thinking when they're collecting facts. He says that can be difficult when people are worried. But he has a couple of ideas that might help.
He says one is that when he's collecting facts, he pretends he's collecting them for someone else, and not for himself, and that helps him to stay unemotional and to collect them in an impartial way, rather than just getting the ones that confirm what he already believes.
He says another thing he sometimes does is to pretend he's a lawyer getting all the facts in order to have enough evidence to argue the other side of the case. So he'll gather facts against himself - all the facts that conflict with his own wishes, and the facts he doesn't like the idea of facing, - rather than just the ones that suit him. Then, he writes down both his side of the case and the other side of the case, and after thinking about both, usually finds that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between the two.
He says he's found from costly experience that conclusions can often be reached much more successfully if the facts are written down, so people have them in front of them and don't keep having to try to remember them all. In fact, he says that even just writing them on a bit of paper and stating the problem clearly can clarify things in the mind and so help people solve the problem they're facing.
How Not Worrying But Using a Problem-Solving Technique Helped Someone Avoid Imprisonment and Torture
He tells the story of a man who was a successful businessman in the Far East during the Second World War. The man said he was in China in 1942 when the Japanese invaded Shanghai. He said he was the manager of a life insurance company, and the Japanese came and said they had to hand over their assets. He knew that if he didn't co-operate, he'd be killed. But he didn't tell the Japanese about some of them, because they belonged to the Hong Kong organisation and not to his own company. But he thought that if the Japanese found out he hadn't told them about them all, he'd be in serious trouble. And they did find out. He wasn't there when they found out, but his chief accountant said the Japanese admiral in charge flew into a rage, stamped and swore, and called the man a thief and a traitor. So he was worried about what would happen when he saw him again. He was worried he'd be thrown into the bridgehouse, the torture chamber of the Japanese Gestapo.
He said he'd had friends who'd killed themselves rather than face being taken there, and others who'd died after ten days of questioning and torture in there. Now he thought he'd be taken there himself.
He said he was told on a Sunday afternoon that the Japanese had found out what he'd done, and he would have been terrified, if he hadn't had a definite technique for solving problems that he'd used for years.
He said for years, whenever he'd been worried, he'd go to his typewriter and write down two questions, and the answers to them:
He said he used to try to answer the questions without writing them down, but he stopped that, because he discovered that writing them down clarified his thinking.
So he wrote down the first question, "What am I worrying about?", and he answered by writing that he was scared he'd be thrown into the Bridgehouse.
Then he wrote down the second question, "What can I do about it?"
He decided there were four possible courses of action he could take, and he spent hours thinking out and writing down what the probable consequences of each of them would be:
He said that as soon as he thought it all out and decided on the last option, he felt greatly relieved.
He said that when he did go down to the office the next day, the Japanese admiral was there and glared at him as he always did, but didn't say anything. Six weeks later, to the businessman's relief, the admiral went back to Tokyo and he didn't have to worry anymore.
He said he probably saved his life by sitting down with his typewriter and thinking through all the possible courses of action he could take to try to solve the problem and then writing down the probable consequences of each one, and deciding on the one that gave him most chance of survival. He said that if he hadn't done that, he might have floundered around in worry and hesitated and done the wrong thing on the spur of the moment. He said he would have been frantic with worry all afternoon, and wouldn't have been able to sleep that night. He would have gone down to the office with a harassed and worried look, and that alone might have caused the Japanese admiral to be suspicious and to do something ruthless.
He said that time and time again over his life, he'd found that coming to a decision in a systematic way like that had helped him banish worries. He said half his worry tended to vanish once he'd made a clear, definite decision, and most of the rest would usually vanish once he started to carry it out.
The author says the businessman became even more successful after that, and he said he owed a lot of his success to his method of eliminating his worries by facing the facts, deciding what to do and then doing it.
The author says that putting decisions into action without faltering is just as important as getting and analysing the facts. He says a successful oil man he knew told him that carrying on thinking about problems beyond a certain point was bound to cause worry and confusion. There comes a time when any more investigation and thinking are harmful. There comes a time when people have to decide and act and never look back.
How Getting People to Solve Their Own Problems Made a Manager's Life Happier
The author says that a manager of one of the most well-known publishing houses in America, Simon and Schuster, dramatically cut down his business worries when he changed his way of working. For fifteen years, he'd spent nearly half of every working day holding conferences where people would discuss problems and what to do about them, if anything. They would get tense and restless, pace the floor, argue, and conversations would go round in circles for hours with nothing really getting done. He said he was exhausted by the end of the day, and thought things would carry on like that for him till he retired. He said it never occurred to him there might be another way of doing things, and if someone had told him it was possible to eliminate three quarters of all the time he spent in such conferences and three quarters of all his nervous strain, he'd have dismissed them as an unrealistic optimist. But he did just that by working out a plan himself. He said he'd been using it for the past eight years, and it had done wonders for his efficiency, his health and his happiness.
He said it was a simple plan. First, he stopped the previous procedure of the conferences where they started with each colleague reciting all the details of their problems and then asking what could be done. Then, he made a new rule, that everyone who wanted to present a problem to him had first to prepare and give him a memorandum answering four questions:
The manager said that nowadays, his colleagues only rarely came to him with their problems, because they'd discovered that in order to answer those four questions, they had to get all the facts and think their problems through. And they found that when they'd done that, three quarters of the time, they didn't have to consult him at all, because in systematically getting the facts and thinking them through, the solution would often just present itself to them, as if it was popping out at them. He said that even when they did consult him about their problems, conferences took about a third of the time they'd taken before, because they proceeded in an orderly, logical way to a reasoned conclusion.
So a lot more time could be spent on making the things that had gone wrong go right, because they were no longer spending so much time talking about what had gone wrong.
The author says that one of the most successful insurance salesmen in America he knew had managed not only to reduce his business worries, but to almost double his income, by a similar method.
He said he started out loving his work, but then he lost enthusiasm and began to despise it, and would have given it up if the idea hadn't occurred to him one day to sit down and work out what was at the root of his worries.
First, he asked himself exactly what the problem was.
He realised that the problem was that he was selling far less insurance than the huge number of calls he was making was worth. People seemed to be interested in buying it, but when he thought they would, they would often tell him they wanted to think about it. So he'd go away and come back another day. It was the time he wasted on those follow-up calls that was causing his depression, since many people would end up saying they didn't want it after all.
The second question he asked himself was, "What are the possible solutions?"
To work those out, he had to study the facts. So he got out his record book for the past year and studied the figures. He was amazed to discover that 70% of his sales had been closed on his first visit. 23% had been closed on the second visit, and only 7% had been closed on third, fourth, fifth and subsequent visits. So he realised that he was wasting half of each day on calls that only gave him 7% of his sales!
The third question he asked himself was, "What is the answer?"
He said the answer was obvious. He immediately cut out all interviews after the second visit, and used the time instead interviewing other people who might be more keen.
He said the results were incredible. Within a very short time, he'd doubled his money.
A hundredload of worry will not pay an ounce of debt.
Troubles are a lot like people - they grow bigger if you nurse them.
The author says he knew a man who was extremely upset when his five-year-old daughter died. Then his wife had another baby, who died in five days!
The father said he couldn't bear the double tragedy - he couldn't sleep, he couldn't eat, he couldn't rest or relax. His nerves were shaken and his confidence was gone.
He said that at last, he went to a couple of doctors. One recommended sleeping pills, and the other recommended a trip somewhere. He tried both, but neither helped him. He felt terrible.
But he did have one child left, a four-year-old son. And one day, the child showed him the solution to his problem. One afternoon, the son asked the father if he'd build a boat for him. The man said he was sitting around feeling sorry for himself and certainly not in the mood to do that, or anything else. But the son kept asking and he had to give in.
He said it took about three hours to build the toy boat, and those turned out to be the first three hours of mental relaxation and peace he'd had in months. When he realised that, it shook him out of his depressed state and he was inspired to do a bit of thinking, the first real thinking he'd done in months. He realised it's difficult to worry when you're doing something that takes planning and thinking. He hadn't been worried while he was building the boat. So he decided to keep busy.
He said the next day, he went from room to room in the house, writing a list of all the jobs that ought to be done. There were dozens of things that needed repairing. In the space of two weeks, he made a list of 242 things that needed attention!
He said that since then, he had done most of the tasks, and had also filled his life with stimulating activity, going to adult education classes two nights a week, becoming governor of the school board and doing other such things, raising money for the Red Cross, and other things. He'd found that while he was busy, he had no time to worry.
The author says that Winston Churchill also said he had no time for worry, when he was working 18 hours a day at the height of the Second World War. He was asked if he worried about his huge responsibilities and said he was too busy; he didn't have the time for worry.
The author says the same could be said of someone who was once the head of the General Motors Research Corporation, when he first started in the business, trying to invent a system where by vehicles could be started automatically, in the days when they had to be started with a handle. In those days, he was so poor that he had to use the hayloft of a barn as a laboratory. To buy food, he had to use a lot of money his wife had made teaching piano lessons, and then he had to borrow money from his life insurance. The author says he asked the wife of the man if she wasn't worried about things then, and she said she was, so worried she couldn't sleep; but her husband had been too absorbed in his work to be worried.
The author says the famous scientist Pasteur spoke of "the peace that could be found in libraries and laboratories". The author says the reason peace can be found in such places is that people are usually too absorbed in what they're doing to worry about themselves. He says researchers rarely have nervous breakdowns, since they're too busy.
He says the reason people can't worry when they're busy is that it's impossible to think of more than one thing at any one time. He suggests people try thinking of two completely different things at exactly the same time if they don't believe that. He says that in the same way, people can't be all enthusiastic about doing something and depressed by worry at the same time - one emotion will drive away the other.
He says doctors used that principle to great effect in the Second World War. When soldiers came off the battlefield with nerves so shaken they were obviously severely mentally disturbed, doctors prescribed a regime of activity. They were kept busy from morning to night, usually doing outdoor activities, fishing, playing ball and golf, taking pictures, making gardens, and dancing. They weren't given time to brood over their horrible experiences.
The author says psychiatrists nowadays sometimes prescribe work as if it's a medicine, and the Quakers over 200 years ago were doing the same. He tells the story of someone who went to a Quaker sanatorium where there were mentally ill people, and he saw them spinning flax and thought they were being exploited, till a Quaker told him their mental health improved when they had something to do. It soothed their nerves.
The author says he knows of a man whose young wife was killed when her clothes caught fire in an accident and she was burned to death. For a while, the man was so tortured by the memory of that that he nearly went insane. But he had three young children to care for, and he tried to be both mother and father to them, taking them for walks, playing games with them, and telling them stories. He also did other things, and keeping busy doing those things made him forget himself and enabled him to regain his peace of mind.
The author says that people don't usually have trouble getting too absorbed in what they're doing to worry when they're at work, but when they come home, at the very time they ought to be free to relax and enjoy themselves, that's the time when worries are most likely to crowd into the mind - anxiety about whether we're getting anywhere in life, for instance, and worry about what someone at work said, and all kinds of things. The author says that happens because the mind has to be focused on something, so when it isn't that occupied, there's room for powerful emotions to flood in when they would have been kept out at busier times of day - emotions of worry, fear, anger, jealousy, hate and so on. Such emotions are so powerful that they tend to drive away happy, peaceful thoughts and emotions, and make problems seem much bigger than they really are.
The Woman Who Found Her Worries Cured by Occupying Her Mind, Not Just Keeping Busy
The author says he spoke to a woman during World War II who found out for herself how effective keeping busy could be at keeping her mind off her worries. She told him she'd almost ruined her health worrying about her son who'd joined the army. She'd worried and worried about where he was, whether he would be wounded or killed, when he would be in action and so on.
But she'd managed to stop the worries that were wrecking her health when she occupied her mind more.
At first, she dismissed her maid and did all her housework herself. But that didn't help much, because she could still think while she was doing housework.
So then she got a job as a saleswoman in a big department store, and that solved the problem, because people were always coming up to her asking her questions about whether the shop had the sizes and colours they wanted, how much things cost, and so on. She never had a moment to think of anything beyond attending to them; and when night came, all she could think about was getting off her aching feet - she'd eat dinner and then go to bed and fall sound asleep immediately.
The author says there was a woman explorer who'd been around the world with her husband for years filming animals, and then they were doing lecture tours about their travels, showing their films, when her husband died in a plane crash. She was badly injured, and the doctors said she'd never leave her bed again, but three months later, she was going on lecture tours to large audiences by herself in a wheelchair. She said she was doing it so she'd have no time for worry and sorrow.
He says a man who spent five months in Antarctica discovered that keeping busy was what stopped him going insane in the harsh and lonely environment, and gave his days meaning. He said he'd plan work for the following day and give himself a set length of time to do each thing, and that made him feel as if he had control over things and his life had order in it. So that made him feel more relaxed.
The author doesn't say what the man was in Antarctica for. Perhaps his story was so well-known in the days when the book was written that he didn't have to.
The author says there was a professor of clinical medicine at Harvard University who said that when he'd been a doctor, he'd seen work cure many people of emotional problems caused by such things as fear and overwhelming doubt.
The author tells the story of a businessman who banished his worries by working long hours for a while. He said that several years earlier, he'd been so worried that he had insomnia. He was tense, irritable and jittery. He thought he was going to have a nervous breakdown. The cause of all his worries was that he was the treasurer of a fruit company, and he thought it might lose lots of money, because for years they'd been selling strawberries in gallon tins to ice-cream manufacturers, but then their strawberries stopped selling, because the ice-cream companies were expanding and had found it more efficient for production to buy strawberries in barrels elsewhere. His company was left with half a million dollars worth of unsold strawberries, and they had a contract with their suppliers to buy a million dollars more in the next year. They'd borrowed a lot of money from the bank, but they couldn't pay it back.
He said he eventually persuaded the boss of the company to allow them to sell the strawberries on the fresh berry market and to stop having more packed.
He said that nearly solved their problems; but by then, worry had become a habit with him, and he started worrying about lots of other things he'd never worried about before, like the fruit they were buying from other parts of the world. He couldn't sleep and was on the way to a nervous breakdown.
But even while he was in despair, he managed to work out a plan that stopped him worrying and cured his insomnia. He had been working seven hours a day. He now started working fifteen and sixteen hour days. He devoted himself to solving problems that demanded all his attention. He took on new duties and responsibilities. He got home at nearly midnight, and when he did, he was so exhausted that he went straight to bed and was asleep within seconds.
He said he kept up his long days for three months, and by then, he'd broken the habit of worrying, so he went back to his normal seven-eight hour working days. He said he'd never been troubled with worry or insomnia since.
The author quotes George Bernard Shaw as having said, "The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you're happy or not". The author advises that people get busy, since then, their blood will start circulating faster, giving them a greater sense of well-being, and their mind will start ticking, and the new positive experience will drive worry away.
The author tells the story of a man in a submarine during the Second World War who said he spent fifteen hours feeling sure he was going to die. A Japanese boat had attacked them, and was bombarding them for all that time. They weren't hit, but they were pushed down so near the bottom of the sea that it wasn't safe for them. The men in the submarine were told to lie quietly in their bunks. He was terrified.
He said he did a review of his life during that time, and thought of the bad things he'd done, and the little things he used to worry about, which seemed absurd in comparison with what he had to worry about now. He'd worried about the long hours and poor pay in his job, and the lack of promotion prospects. He'd worried because he couldn't buy a new car, couldn't own his own home, and couldn't buy his wife nice clothes. He'd hated his boss, who was always nagging and scolding, and would come home irritable and quarrel with his wife over trivialities. He'd worried about a nasty scar on his forehead he'd got after an accident.
He said all those worries used to seem so important, but they seemed stupid when he was faced with being killed. He resolved that if he lived to see daylight, he would never ever worry again!
The Japanese ship eventually ran out of ammunition and went away.
The author says it can often be the little things in life that irritate people the most. He says that man in Antarctica he mentioned said his men didn't complain about the intense cold or the dangers and hardships, but there were bunkmates who stopped speaking to each other because one suspected the other of inching his gear into his allotted space, and one man refused to eat near someone who chewed his food more than usual before swallowing. He said that in that environment, even little things like that could drive even disciplined men to the edge of insanity.
The author says it's often the trivialities that cause marital unhappiness. He says a judge who'd been the arbiter in over forty thousand cases of marital unhappiness said that trivialities were at the bottom of most of them.
The Story of the Worry Over the Napkins That Didn't Match
The author says his wife became stressed for a little while because they'd invited people to dinner but when she'd laid the table, she found that three of the napkins didn't match the table cloth. She rushed to the cook to get some more, but the cook said they were in the wash. The guests were at the door, so she couldn't change things. She got so agitated for a moment that she felt like bursting into tears, wondering why that had to ruin her evening.
But then she thought, "Why should I let it?" So she went to dinner, determined to have a good time. And she did. She thought she'd rather people thought she was a sloppy housekeeper than a nervous, bad-tempered one. But as far as she could make out, no one even noticed the napkins.
The author says a lot of the time, all people need to do to stop themselves getting so agitated by trivialities is to change their perspective on things. He tells the story of someone who told him he used to get really irritated by the noise his radiators made. But one day, he went on a camping expedition with friends, and realised the noise of the camp fire sounded like the radiators. Yet he was enjoying it. He thought it was strange that he should enjoy one sound and hate the other. When he got home, he decided not to worry about the noise the radiators made anymore, but to go to sleep and try to forget it.
For a few days, he was conscious of the radiator sounds, but then he just forgot all about them.
He said he thought it was like that with many little worries - people exaggerate their importance.
The author quotes a man who reflected that life is so short we ought to be getting the most we can out of it. He said that often, we allow ourselves to be upset by small things that are best just forgotten as things not worth bothering about. We only have a few more decades to live, and yet we lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over things that will have been forgotten by us and by everyone else this time next year. He recommended that we devote our lives to worthwhile behaviour and feelings.
Worry is as useless as a handle on a snowball.
A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.
I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.
The author says that when he was young, he used to worry and worry about all kinds of things. But he came to realise that 99% of them never happened.
For instance, he was terrified about being struck by lightning, but found out that the chances of being killed by lightning in America in any one year are only 1 in 350 thousand, according to the National Safety Council.
He says people could probably eliminate nine tenths of their worries if they just stopped a while to calculate how likely what they were worrying about really was to happen, going by the law of averages.
He says some insurance companies are really like betting shops, where someone pays them money as if they're betting on something bad happening, and the insurance company's betting it won't, since bad things don't happen to most people as often as they worry they might, so insurance companies can make money from people's worries because they won't have to pay customers nearly as often as the customers pay the companies; but they'll hopefully pay out if something bad does happen.
How a Woman Stopped Worrying and Found Peace by Thinking of the Law of Averages
The author says he met a woman who gave him the impression she'd never worried in her life, but she said she hadn't always been like that. She said her life was almost ruined by worry before she'd learned to conquer it; she lived through eleven years of "self-made hell". She said she was irritable and hot-tempered, and lived under a lot of tension all the time. When she went out shopping, she'd worry herself into a state, worrying she might have left the iron on, or that the house might have caught fire, or that the maid had run off and left the children, or perhaps that the children had been killed while out on their bikes, and so on. She said she'd worry herself into such a state that she'd often rush out of the shops in the middle of her shopping and take the bus home to check things were allright.
Wow, she sounds worse than me!
She said things were so bad that her marriage ended in disaster.
But she said her second husband was a lawyer, a calm, logical man who never worried about anything. She said that when she got tense and anxious about something, he'd say to her,
"Relax. Let's think this out. What are you really worrying about? Let's examine the law of averages and see whether or not it's likely to happen".
She gave an example, saying that one day they'd been on a journey in the car, and they were travelling down a dirt road, and there was a terrible rainstorm. The car was sliding around and they couldn't control it. She was certain they'd slide off the road into one of the ditches by the side of it, but her husband kept saying to her to calm her,
"I'm driving very slowly. Nothing serious is likely to happen. Even if the car does slide into the ditch, by the law of averages, we won't be hurt".
She said his calmness and confidence reassured her.
She said there was another time when they were camping in the mountains one summer, when there was a high wind. The tent was owned by a travel organisation. The guy ropes were fixed to a wooden platform, but the outer tent was making so much noise shaking around that she was convinced it would be torn to shreds, or that it would come loose and fly away in the wind. She said she was terrified. But she said her husband kept saying to her,
"Look, my dear, we are traveling with Brewsters' guides. Brewsters know what they're doing. They've been pitching tents in these mountains for sixty years. This tent has been here for many seasons. It hasn't blown down yet and, by the law of averages, it won't blow away tonight; and even if it does, we can take shelter in another tent. So relax".
She said she did relax, and slept soundly after that.
She said there was a time when there was an "infantile paralysis" epidemic in their part of California, and in the old days, she'd have been "Hysterical", but her husband persuaded her to behave calmly. They kept their children away from crowds and school, and consulted the board of health, who told them that actually, even in the worst epidemic of infantile paralysis they'd had in California, only 1835 children had got it in the entire state, and usually, the number was only about 2-300. She said that though it was tragic for any family whose child got it, the figures proved that by the law of averages, the chances of any one child getting it were remote.
She said that the phrase, "By the law of averages, it won't happen" had destroyed 90% of her worries; and it had made the past twenty years of her life peaceful and beautiful beyond her highest expectations.
The author says it's been said that most unhappiness and worry comes from people's imaginations, not reality. He says he thinks that's been true for him.
He says he spoke to someone who agreed it was true for himself as well. He was the head of a fruit distributing company. He said he used to torture himself by thinking things like, "What if there's a train wreck? What if my fruit gets strewn all over the countryside? What if a bridge collapses as my cars are going across it?"
He said the fruit was insured, but he was worried his business would suffer if he couldn't deliver it on time. He got so worried that he was afraid he had stomach ulcers and went to the doctor. The doctor said it was just jumpy nerves.
Then he began to really think about what he was doing. He asked himself how many fruit cars he'd handled over the years, and estimated it at about 25 thousand. Then he asked himself how many had ever been wrecked, and he thought it might have been as many as about five, in all that time. Then he said to himself, "Only five in 25 Thousand? That means there's only a one in five thousand chance that one will be wrecked! So what are you worrying about?"
He said to himself that a bridge might collapse. Then he asked himself how many times a bridge had collapsed in all the time he'd been delivering fruit, and he answered that one never had.
So then he asked himself whether he didn't think it was stupid to worry himself into stomach ulcers over a bridge that had never collapsed in all that time, and that a carriage of his fruit would be lost in a train crash when the odds were five thousand to one against that?
He said that when he looked at it that way, he felt quite silly, and resolved not to worry about it anymore. He said he'd never been troubled with what he'd thought might be a stomach ulcer since.
The author tells the story of a man who said he was a soldier in Normandy in the Second World War, who was in a narrow trench near the beach and thought it looked like a grave. When he tried to sleep in it, he thought it felt like a grave; and then it occurred to him that it might end up being his grave. He worried and worried for five days, barely sleeping, until he thought he'd go insane! Then, he thought he needed to do something about it, and had a think. German bombers had been flying overhead every night, and yet so far, in all the five days, no one in his unit had been killed. Only two had been injured, and that was from the falling flak from their own anti-aircraft guns, not from the enemy!
He decided to stop worrying by doing something constructive. So he built a thick wooden roof over his trench to protect himself from flak. He thought about how widely spread out his unit was, and decided the only way he could be killed in his deep narrow trench was from a direct hit, and he thought that had a less than one in ten thousand chance of happening.
He said that after looking at things that way for a couple of nights, he calmed right down, and even slept through the bombing raids.
The author says that sometimes, a life of misery can be caused by refusing to accept something that can't be changed.
How a Life was Turned Around by a Letter
He says a woman told him the story of how her nephew was killed in the Second World War, and she was grief-stricken! She said she'd been close to her nephew, had helped to raise him, and admired what he was growing up to be. But when she got a telegram saying he'd died, she felt as if her world had been shattered and there was nothing left to live for.
She said she neglected her friends and her work. She was full of bitterness and anger that he'd had to die. She was so overwhelmed with grief that she decided to give up work and hide herself in her tears and bitterness. She couldn't accept what had happened.
She was clearing out her desk ready to leave, when she found a letter she'd forgotten about from that nephew, that had been written a few years earlier after her mother died. It said:
"... Of course, we will all miss her, especially you. But I know you'll carry on. Your own personal philosophy will make you do that. I shall never forget the beautiful truths you taught me. Wherever I am, or how far apart we may be, I shall always remember that you taught me to smile, and to take whatever comes, like a man."
She said she read it over and over again, and it was as if he was there beside her, asking her why she wasn't doing what she'd told him to do, and encouraging her to do that.
So she said she did. She went back to work, and kept saying to herself, "It is done. I can't change it. But I can and will carry on as he wished me to do".
She said she stopped being bitter and rebellious, and threw her mind into her work. She said she wrote letters to soldiers - other people's boys. She joined an adult-education class at night, looking for new interests and making new friends.
She said she could hardly believe the change that came over her. She said she'd stopped mourning over the past that she couldn't change, and was now living each day with joy, as her nephew had wanted her to do. She said she'd made peace with life. She'd accepted fate; and now she was living a fuller life than she ever had before.
The author says it's not just circumstances that make us happy or miserable, but how we react to them.
He tells the story of a man who was convinced he could take anything in life except going blind. He felt sure he wouldn't be able to stand that. But then one day when he was in his sixties, he looked down at the carpet and couldn't see the colours and pattern properly. He went to a specialist who told him he was losing his sight. He was told that one eye was nearly blind, and the other one would soon go the same way.
But instead of drowning in despair, he was surprised to find that he actually felt quite joyful. He even managed to make humorous comments about it. He was annoyed by floating specks in his eyes that would glide around and cut off his vision. But when the biggest of them did that, he would say, "Hello! There's Grandfather again! Wonder where he's going on this fine morning!"
The author says that when the man became totally blind, he said he realised he could take it after all. In fact, he felt sure he'd be able to take the loss of all five senses, because even if he lost them all, he'd still be able to live on inside his mind.
He did want his eyesight restored though, so he went through more than twelve operations in a year, with local anaesthetic! But he didn't get angry and bitter and complain about that. He knew he didn't have an alternative if he wanted his sight restored, so he knew the only way to stop himself being upset was to accept it calmly. He refused to go into a private ward at the hospital, and went into one where he could be with other people who had troubles as well. He tried to cheer them up. And when the time came for him to have each operation, fully aware while they were going on of what was happening, he tried to remember he was actually fortunate that it was happening. He said, "How wonderful, that science now has the skill to operate on anything so delicate as the human eye!"
He even said he wouldn't exchange the experience for a happier one, since it had taught him acceptance. It made him feel sure that nothing life could bring him was beyond his power to endure.
The author says everyone's stronger than they think, and we all have the resources to endure bad things. We just need to recognise that and make use of them.
He says that people who refuse to accept what they don't have the power to change will become "worried, tense, strained, and neurotic". He says it's been observed that people who spend all their energies fighting against what can't be changed have no energy left to create a new and happier life for themselves.
He tells the story of someone who was terrified during the Second World War after he joined the coastguard in America and was made supervisor of explosives. He'd only been a cracker salesman before. He said his first job was down in a ship where men were loading explosives onto it, and he didn't think they were being very careful with them! He was terrified the ship would be blown to pieces. He was trembling and his heart was pounding. But he knew he couldn't run away, since if he did, he and his family would be disgraced, and he might even be shot for desertion. So he had to stay. He stood in terror for over an hour looking at the careless way the explosives were being loaded and thinking they could all be killed any minute. But then he said he started to use a bit of common sense, and gave himself a good talking to. He said to himself,
"Look here! So you are blown up. So what! You will never know the difference! It will be an easy way to die. Much better than dying by cancer. Don't be a fool. You can't expect to live forever! You've got to do this job--or be shot. So you might as well like it."
He said he talked to himself like that for hours, and began to feel a lot more peaceful. He said he finally managed to overcome his worries and fears by accepting that he had to be there and yes, he might get killed.
He said that taught him a lesson, and since then, whenever he'd been tempted to worry about something he couldn't possibly change, he would shrug his shoulders and tell himself to forget it. He said he'd found that it worked.
The author says that one way of banishing some worries is to digest the words of the famous old prayer:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.
When you find yourself stressed, ask yourself one question:
Will this matter in 5 years from now?
If yes, then do something about the situation.
If no, then let it go.
The author tells the story of a man who thought he knew a lot about the stock market and was given some money by friends to invest in it for them, but he lost every bit of it. He said he didn't mind losing his own money so much, but he felt awful about having lost his friends' money and dreaded facing them again, even though they could well afford the loss. But when he did, to his surprise, they not only turned out to be good-natured about what had happened, but also incurable optimists.
He decided he needed to know more about the best way of investing in the stock market before he invested any more money. He found someone who'd been successful investing in the stock market for years. He knew the man couldn't just be lucky, so he asked him how he'd been so successful. The man said that every time a stock or share dropped in value five points, he'd sell it to limit his losses before it fell some more. He said that if the investment choices people made were wise in the first place, quite a lot of profit could be made despite losing some money.
The man telling the story said he'd done that ever since, and had saved his clients and himself many thousands.
He said that after a while, he realised he could use the principle in other parts of life, limiting the cost to himself of things that went wrong, for instance limiting the amount of worry he was prepared to do about something before he gave up on it, or limiting the amount of resentment he was prepared to stew in over something before he decided it just wasn't worth any more hassle. He said it worked very well.
He gave an example, saying he has a friend who would often make lunch dates with him to discuss things but turn up late. He said he used to stew around in annoyance for half an hour before his friend turned up, but eventually, he made a rule that he was going to wait ten minutes and no more. He told his friend that if he turned up after that, it would be too late - their lunch meeting would be "sold down the river" because he'd be gone. The loss of ten minutes was all he was prepared to stand.
The author says he once had ambitions to be a novelist and wrote a book, but was told by a publisher that it was worthless and he was no good at writing fiction. He was shocked for a while, but then decided it wasn't worth worrying about any more, because otherwise the costs to his mental well-being would be more than the thing was worth. So he decided to stick to writing non-fiction and teaching. He says now, he's very glad he did, so the experience really turned out for the best.
He tells the story of Gilbert and Sullivan, who he says would have been a lot better off if they'd known how to give up on bitterness and resentment, because it was costing them too much, making them miserable. He says they had an argument because one bought a carpet for the theatre they'd bought together and the other one thought it was far too expensive and became very angry and took him to court over it. They never spoke to each other again. When one wrote the lyrics for new operas, he'd post them to the other one, and when the other one wrote the music, he'd send it just the same. They didn't ever think, "Right. The price of that carpet was worth so much anger and bitterness and hassle, but no more. Let's make up and enjoy ourselves again."
The author says it's a shame they couldn't have had the same attitude as Abraham Lincoln. He says that once, during the American Civil War, when some of Lincoln's friends were denouncing his hostile enemies, Lincoln said,
"You have more of a feeling of personal resentment than I have. Perhaps I have too little of it; but I never thought it paid. A man doesn't have the time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me, I never remember the past against him."
The author says an aunt of his would have lived a much happier life if she'd had the same forgiving spirit as Abraham Lincoln. She and her husband had lived on a farm that had poor soil, and they didn't make much money. But his aunt loved to buy little luxuries to brighten up the place, like nice curtains. She would buy them on credit, always from the same shop. But her husband was worried about their debts, so he secretly told the shopkeeper to stop letting her have things on credit. When she heard about it, she was very angry - and she was just as angry about it nearly fifty years later! She would often tell the story of what had happened.
The author says she had paid dearly for the grudges and bitterness she'd held on to - she'd paid for them with her peace of mind.
The author says that no one can change the past; the best thing we can do when we've made mistakes is to calmly analyse them, profit from what we learn, and then forget them. But so many people just waste time agonising over them instead. He says he's done the same. He says he invested a large amount of money once in starting adult education classes in several cities. He spent a lot on the advertising and many people came to them. He was too busy teaching to want to bother looking at finances. But after a year, he discovered that he hadn't made a penny's profit. He says he realises he should have paid someone to look after finances for him.
He says that when he found out he'd spent all that money on the project and not made any in return, he should have just written the money off, like someone else - a man who he says lost all his life's savings in a bank crash, but who, when he was asked if he knew he was bankrupt, just said, "Yes, I heard", and carried on teaching. He never mentioned the loss again and moved on.
The author says another thing he should have done was to have analysed his mistakes and learned a lasting lesson.
He says he didn't do either of those things, but got into a state with worry. He says he was in a daze for months, losing weight and losing sleep. And he says that instead of learning from his huge mistake, he just went and did the same thing again on a smaller scale.
The Lesson a Teacher Taught About Not Crying Over Spilt Milk
He says he wishes he could have been taught at school by a teacher he was told about by someone who said that one morning in his class's hygiene lesson, his teacher taught him one of the most valuable lessons he'd ever learned in his life. He said he'd only been in his teens at the time, but even then, he was always worrying. He used to agonise over the mistakes he'd made. After handing a paper in after an exam, he'd spend much of the night chewing his fingernails with anxiety for fear he hadn't passed. He was always picking apart and stewing over the things he'd done, wishing he'd done them differently, and the things he'd said, wishing he'd said them better.
But he said that one morning in his hygiene class, the pupils went in to discover there was a bottle of milk on the edge of the desk. They wondered what it was for, but then the teacher dramatically stood up and swept the bottle of milk with a crash into the sink, and shouted, "Don't cry over spilt milk!"
Then the teacher called them all to the sink to have a look, and said the milk was gone, and that all the fussing and hair-pulling in the world wouldn't bring it back. He said that with a little thought and prevention, it could have been stopped from spilling; but it was too late now - all that could be done was to write it off and go on to the next thing.
The man telling the story said that that taught him more about practical living than anything else he learned at high school.
The author says the proverb "Don't cry over spilt milk" might sound trite, but if people took the lessons in such proverbs to heart, they'd be a lot better off.
The author says the old boxing champion Jack Dempsey told him that it was humiliating when he lost the championship and realised he was too old to get it back, but he told himself not to brood on the past, and instead through his energies into the future, opening a couple of restaurants and promoting other boxing events. In fact, he said it had turned out that he'd become happier than he was when he was champion.
The author of this book says that the Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius said,
"Our life is what our thoughts make it."
The author says he believes that. He says that "if we think happy thoughts, we will be happy. If we think miserable thoughts, we will be miserable. If we think fear thoughts, we will be fearful. If we think sickly thoughts, we will probably be ill. If we think failure, we will certainly fail. If we wallow in self-pity, everyone will want to shun us and avoid us."
He quotes one famous person as having said:
"A man is what he thinks about all day long."
The author says he isn't saying we should pretend problems don't exist, but just that we should think of bad feelings as less significant than we sometimes do, so we don't think they rule us, but we think that they're just feelings that can be overridden if we motivate ourselves to come around to a positive attitude while we're trying to solve our problems. If we do, it'll mean we're concerned about our problems, but not worried.
He says there's a difference between concern and worry: If he crosses a busy street, he's concerned, not worried. Concern means to recognise the problem exists and to calmly take steps to solve it. Worry means to get more and more anxious with problems going round and round in our heads, but never getting any nearer to solving them.
He says he spent some time with someone who at one time had a lot of success in life showing films of his travels with wartime leaders in the First World War, but then he had a lot of bad luck and got into debt, and had to live cheaply while he tried to sort his problems out. In fact, he could only buy food because he borrowed money. But he didn't start feeling sorry for himself. He told the author he was concerned about his problems, but he wasn't going to let them get him down, since if that happened, he'd be no good to himself or his creditors. So he bought a flower every morning before he started out, put it in his button hole and went walking with a spring in his step. He said he believed that defeat was just the training people had to expect if they eventually wanted to get to the top.
The author says the power of thought can dramatically transform a person's life and health. He says someone once told him the story of how he had a nervous breakdown brought on by worry. He said he'd worried about everything - he worried because he thought he was too thin; he worried because he thought he was losing his hair; he worried because he was afraid he'd never make enough money to get married; he worried because he thought he'd never make a good father; he worried because he was scared he might be losing the girl he wanted to marry; he worried because he didn't think he was living a good life. He worried about the impression he was making on others, and worried he was getting stomach ulcers.
He said he got so tense and anxious that he was too ill to work. He had to give up his job. His anxiety got worse and worse. He was in mental agony.
He said he had a nervous breakdown, and it was so severe he couldn't even talk to his family. He was filled with fear. He said he had no control over his thoughts. He would jump at the slightest sound. He avoided everybody, and would burst out crying for no apparent reason. He said every day was like agony, and he was tempted to commit suicide.
He was thinking of jumping into the river to end it all, but decided to go to Florida instead, hoping a change of scene would do him good. As he got on the train, his father handed him a letter, telling him not to open it till he got there.
He said he couldn't get a job he'd tried for in Florida, so he spent his time on the beach. He felt even worse than he had at home. So he opened his father's letter to see what it said. He discovered it said:
"Son, you are 1500 miles from home, and you don't feel any different, do you? I knew you wouldn't, because you took with you the one thing that is the cause of all your trouble, that is, yourself. There is nothing wrong with either your body or your mind. It is not the situations you have met that have thrown you; it is what you think of these situations. 'As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.' When you realize that, son, come home, for you will be cured."
The man who'd had the nervous breakdown said he was angry with his father for saying those things; he'd hoped for sympathy. He vowed never to go home.
He said that that evening, he was walking down one of the side streets of Miami, when he came to a church where a service was going on. Since he didn't have anywhere to go, he drifted in to listen to the sermon. It was on the theme: "He who conquers his spirit is mightier than he who taketh a city."
He said that the sermon expressed the same thoughts that had been in his father's letter. But hearing them in a church made him stop and think. He said it "swept the accumulated litter out of [his] brain".
He said he was able to think clearly and sensibly for the first time in his life. He said he "realised what a fool [he'd] been". He said he was shocked to see himself in his true light. He'd been wanting to change the world and everyone in it, when it was his own thinking patterns he had really needed to change all that time.
He said the next morning he packed and started home. The next week he was back at his job. Four months later he married the girl he'd been afraid of losing. He said they now had a happy family of five children. He said he'd also had a lot of career success.
He said life was much fuller and friendlier than it had been, and he believed he'd come to appreciate the true values of life now. He said when moments of uneasiness came upon him, as they will on everyone, he just told himself to get his mind back in focus.
He said he was actually glad he'd had the breakdown, because he'd found out, albeit the hard way, what power our thoughts can have over our minds and bodies. He said that now, he can make his thoughts work for him instead of against him. He now understands that his dad had been right when he said that it wasn't outward situations that had caused all his suffering, but what he'd thought of those situations. He said that as soon as he realised that, he was cured, and stayed cured.
The author says that a French philosopher adopted as the motto for his life:
"A man is not hurt so much by what happens, as by his opinion of what happens."
The author says people can change their feelings by changing their actions. He says a psychology specialist he much admired said that we can't change our feelings by just making up our minds to; but we can change them by changing our actions: When we make ourselves get on and do more positive things, our feelings will follow our change of actions and become more positive themselves.
The psychology specialist advised that if people didn't feel cheerful, they could regain their cheerfulness by sitting up and acting and speaking as if they were already cheerful, even if they didn't feel like doing that at first.
The author recommends people try that for themselves, saying it's impossible to still be miserable while acting out the symptoms of being radiantly happy.
The Man Who Thought Changing His Attitude Had Saved His Life
The author says a man told him that while he was recovering from scarlet fever, he was told he'd developed kidney problems. No doctor could cure him. Then, years later, he developed other complications. His doctor told him his blood pressure was very dangerously high, and he'd better get ready to die.
The man said he went home and made sure his insurance was all paid, then lay back and sank into depression. He made his wife and family miserable as well as himself.
But he said that after a week of "wallowing in self-pity", he said to himself:
"You're acting like a fool! You may not die for a year yet, so why not try to be happy while you're here?"
He said he threw back his shoulders, put a smile on his face, and tried to behave as if everything was normal. He said it was an effort at first, but he forced himself to be pleasant and cheerful, and that helped his family. But not only that, it also helped him. He began to feel better and better, till he felt almost as well as he pretended to feel. The improvement carried on, and when he spoke to the author, he said it was months after the doctor said he should be dead, and yet he was well, happy and alive, and his blood pressure had gone down.
He said he felt sure that if he'd gone on feeling miserable and thinking thoughts of defeat, the doctor would have been proved right - he would have died when they said he was going to. But he said he thought that by changing his mental attitude to cheerfulness, he'd given his body the opportunity to heal itself.
The author says that feelings of hate can hurt the person who has them, while their enemy isn't even aware of them; and if their enemy was, they might delight in the way the person was fretting over things and feeling tormented about things. He says that if we hate someone and spend time on resentment against them, we're ruining our quality of life; it's as if they're getting power over our happiness, our health, our sleep, possibly our appetite, and our blood pressure. And perhaps they'd love it if they knew.
He says it was reported in a magazine that one of the main causes of high blood pressure is resentment. The magazine said that those who hold onto resentments over time can experience chronic high blood pressure and later heart trouble.
So the author reflects that when Jesus told people to have a forgiving attitude towards others and love their enemies, he was actually giving a prescription for good health.
He says he knows someone who had a heart attack, and her doctor told her to go to bed, and not let anything make her angry, whatever happened. He says people with weak hearts are putting themselves in danger when they get angry. He says he knows of a restaurant owner who had a heart attack and died after he flew into a rage with his cook for drinking out of his saucer. In the coroners report it said anger had caused his heart failure.
He says that even a police bulletin advised people:
"If selfish people try to take advantage of you, cross them off your list, but don't try to get even. When you try to get even, you hurt yourself more than you hurt the other fellow."
He says he knows people, and so must everyone, whose faces have been wrinkled and disfigured by hate and resentment, and that all the cosmetic surgery in the world wouldn't make them look as good as they would if their faces were softened by a forgiving, loving attitude.
He says that anyone feeling hatred towards bitter enemies should consider how delighted the enemies would be if they knew that hatred was making them feel weary and nervous, ruining their looks, giving them heart trouble, and probably shortening their lives.
He says that even if we find it difficult to love our enemies, for the love of ourselves, we should stop indulging feelings of hate and agitation about them - it's a good idea to value our health, happiness and looks so much that we don't let hatred for enemies ruin them as if our enemies are controlling us.
How Forgiving Makes Good Business Sense
The author says he received a letter from someone who used to work as a lawyer in Vienna till he fled to Sweden during the Second World War. He didn't have any money so he needed a job badly. He could write and speak several languages, so he thought he might be able to get a job as a correspondent for a firm involved in importing or exporting things. He wrote to several companies, but most replied that they didn't need such an employee because of the way the war was disrupting things, but they'd keep his name on file. But one man wrote a rude letter asking how he thought he could possibly be a correspondent for him when his Swedish was so full of mistakes, and saying it was foolish to even imagine he'd need a correspondent.
At first, the lawyer was angry that the man had insulted him like that. He didn't think the man had the right to accuse him of making mistakes when his own letter was full of mistakes! He wrote an angry letter back intended to humiliate the man. But then he stopped to think. It occurred to him that perhaps he did make mistakes, since although he'd studied Swedish, it wasn't his native language. So he thought that in that case, he ought to study harder if he hoped to get a job. He realised that the man had done him a favour in making him realise that, if he did need to do more study, even if he had been insulting. The fact that he didn't like the way the letter was phrased didn't alter the fact that the man had done him a favour. So he decided to write and thank the man.
So he tore up the angry letter, and wrote a nice one instead that said:
"It was kind of you to go to the trouble of writing to me, especially when you do not need a correspondent. I am sorry I was mistaken about your firm. The reason that I wrote you was that I made inquiry and your name was given me as a leader in your field. I did not know I had made grammatical errors in my letter. I am sorry and ashamed of myself. I will now apply myself more diligently to the study of the Swedish language and try to correct my mistakes. I want to thank you for helping me get started on the road to self-improvement."
The man wrote back to him asking him to come and see him. He did, and got a job. So he learned for himself what the biblical proverb says:
"A gentle answer turns away anger."
The author says that one way to make it easy to forgive and forget enemies is to get involved in a cause a lot bigger than ourselves. Then insults and enmities we encounter won't matter to us because we'll be so busy being enthusiastic for our cause.
He gives an example, saying that during the First World War, a rumour went around central Mississippi that the Germans were inciting black people to rebellion. There was a black teacher and preacher who'd started a school for underprivileged black children who was preaching in a church, when he was heard to shout:
"Life is a battle in which every black must gird on his armor and fight to survive and succeed."
Some men were listening outside, and were convinced he must be inciting rebellion. So they decided to lynch him.
They went and got a mob together and then came back and put a rope around him and dragged him out of the church and a mile up the road, where they prepared to hang him and burn him at the same time, and were just about to when someone shouted, suggesting they let him speak before he died.
He spoke for some time, all about his work with underprivileged children. He told of how he'd gone to university, had been good at music, but had turned down an offer from someone to finance a further musical education, and one from a hotel man to set him up in business, because he had an enthusiastic ambition to educate the most poverty-stricken and illiterate black people in the country. He went to the most backward part he could find, and set up a school in the woods at first, using a tree stump for a desk.
He told the men who wanted to lynch him of the struggle he'd had to educate and train those boys and girls who'd never been to school to be good farmers, mechanics, housekeepers and cooks. He told of white men who'd helped him, giving him land, lumber, pigs, cows and money, so he could expand his school.
As he talked, he pleaded not for himself, but for his cause.
As he spoke, the crowd softened towards him. Eventually, one of them said he was sure the man was telling the truth, since he knew some of the men he was talking about. He said they'd made a mistake; the man was doing an admirable work, and they ought to help him instead of hanging him. He passed a hat around the crowd and raised some money for him, and they let him go.
Afterwards, the man was asked whether he hated the men who'd wanted to lynch him, and he said he was too busy with his cause to hate - too absorbed in something bigger than himself. He said:
"I have no time to quarrel, no time for regrets, and no man can force me to stoop low enough to hate him."
The author says he read that Abraham Lincoln was bitterly denounced by some people, and yet he wasn't vindictive towards them. If he thought a person would be the best one for a certain job in the government, he'd give it to them regardless of the fact that they were his enemy.
The author says that it may be that if we'd been brought up the way and experienced the same things our enemies have, we might behave the way they do. So instead of condemning them and hating them, we could even pity them and be thankful we're not like them. Instead of wanting revenge against them, we could try to understand them and help them, being forgiving.
The author tells the story of the time he met a businessman who was still ragingly angry about something that had happened nearly a year before, when he'd spent ten thousand dollars giving each of his employees a 300 dollar Christmas bonus, and no one had thanked him. The author says he was warned that the man would tell him about it within the first fifteen minutes of meeting him, and he did. He bitterly complained that he was sorry he'd ever paid them. The author says the man was so full of venom he genuinely pitied him.
The author says the man was about sixty, so he can't have had all that many years to live, and yet he'd just ruined one of the few he had destroying his peace of mind with resentment over something that was over with.
He says the man's perspective might have been totally changed if instead of wallowing in rage and self-pity, he'd humbled himself a bit by pondering the reasons why he might not have got any thanks. Perhaps he was generally a mean employer who under-paid and over-worked his employees. Maybe they thought they'd earned the bonus. Maybe they found him so critical and unapproachable that they didn't want to engage in conversation with him. Maybe they thought a lot of the profits were going for taxes anyway, so giving some away to them instead wouldn't have been any sacrifice. But then, the employees could have been selfish and bad-mannered. It could have been any one of a number of reasons, or a mixture of several.
The author says he has no idea what the reason was; but even if it was the fault of the employees, their ingratitude just reflects human nature. Expecting gratitude can only lead to disappointment and irritation. He says a criminal lawyer commented that he'd saved seventy-eight men from the electric chair, but not one of them thanked him. The author says that if people won't necessarily even thank others for saving their lives, it's a mistake to expect gratitude for anything else.
He says a man told him he'd saved a man from going to jail after he'd speculated on the stock market using money belonging to the bank he worked for. He was grateful for a little while, but then he turned nasty and mocked and denounced him.
He says a man left a million dollars to one of his relatives in his will, giving another 365 million to charities. Rather than being grateful for the million, a few years after he died, the relative was cursing the man, complaining that he'd only left him a "measly million"!
The author says that since it seems that people are ungrateful by nature, it's best that people don't expect gratitude. If they do, they'll make themselves miserable. But if they don't, then when it does happen, it'll come as a very nice surprise.
He says he knows a woman who's always complaining because she's lonely and her relatives never come to see her. But he thinks it's no wonder they don't want to see her, because she's always complaining. They do sometimes come to see her out of duty, but they dread coming, because when they do, she subjects them for hours to a stream of bitter complaints, criticisms and self-pitying sighs. He says when he goes there, she complains for ages about how she helped her nieces when they were children, nursed them through ailments and put herself out for them in other ways, and yet they never repay her by giving her attention. But it's no wonder they don't.
When bullying them into coming doesn't work, she develops heart problems. The doctors say she gets heart palpitations, but they're brought on by emotional problems.
The author says he thinks there are thousands of people like that woman, people who are ill because of what they think of as ingratitude, and because of loneliness and neglect. They long to be loved, but the only way they will be loved is if they stop demanding it and instead start pouring out love themselves with no thought of repayment.
He says he isn't being a romantic idealist; it's just common sense. That's what attracts people to others.
He says people can find a lot of joy and fulfilment in giving, whether they get repaid or not. He says his parents are very poor, and yet every year they send some money to an orphans' home. They probably don't get any thanks for it except maybe by letter, but they get joy out of knowing that little children are being helped. He says he sends his parents some money each year before Christmas to buy a few luxuries for themselves, but when he goes to see them, he always discovers they spent it on provisions for someone in the community who needs help.
He says that if parents complain about the ingratitude of their children, it may be because they never taught their children gratitude towards others. Gratitude has to be learned. He gives an example, saying a man who married a widow and became step-father to her children only earned a small wage, but she persuaded him to borrow money so her two grown sons could go to college. For four years, he paid for their food, rent, fuel and clothing out of a mere forty-dollar-a-week wage, and never complained. But neither his wife or her sons gave him any thanks. They just took what he was doing for granted. The woman said she didn't want to make her sons feel as if they needed to be thankful, because it would be a shame for them to think they had any obligation towards him. Instead, she would say things like, "That's the least he can do."
The author says the woman thought she was sparing her sons from feeling burdened, but actually, she was giving them the dangerous idea that the world owed them a living. And their sense of entitlement did turn out to be dangerous, because one of the sons took money from an employer and ended up in jail.
The author says children tend to be what their parents make them. He says his mother's sister was an example of someone who poured out love for her children and others and was dearly loved by them in return. He says she had six children of her own, and yet she was happy for her mother, and also her husband's mother, to come and live with her. It might have caused her difficulties sometimes, and yet she pampered and spoiled the old ladies, and made them feel at home. It never occurred to her that she was doing anything especially praiseworthy. She just thought it was the natural and right thing to do, and the thing she wanted to do.
He says she eventually became a widow. After her children grew up and moved away, they all clamoured to have her come and stay with them, because they adored her. It wasn't because of gratitude, but because of sheer love. He says those children breathed in an atmosphere of loving kindness all through their childhoods, so it was no wonder they wanted to give love in return.
So he recommends that parents who want to raise grateful children should be grateful for things themselves, to give their children an example to learn from. He gives an example, saying that when parents are tempted to make an ungrateful remark that belittles someone, they should stop and think, and try to think of something nice to say instead if it's more appropriate. For example, if someone sends them knitted dishcloths for Christmas, instead of complaining in front of the children that they can't have cost the person anything, they could say something like, "She must have spent hours making these for us. Isn't she nice. Let's write her a thank you letter right away".
He says that way, the children may unconsciously learn to show appreciation and to compliment people for things.
The author says a man told him his worries were banished in ten seconds once, when he was walking down the street, and saw a sight that taught him more about how to live than he'd learned in the past ten years. He said he'd been running a grocery shop for the previous two years, but it had done badly and he'd lost all his savings, and got into such debts that it took seven years to repay them. He'd closed his shop a few days before, and was on the way to the bank to ask to borrow money so he could go to a new city to look for a job. He walked as if he thought everything was hopeless.
But then he suddenly saw a man who had no legs, coming along on a little wooden platform with wheels from roller skates. He pushed himself along with a block of wood in each hand.
He said he met the man just after he'd crossed the road, as he was tilting his little platform to get it up the curb. He said that as they met, the disabled man's eyes met his, and the man gave him a big smile and commented with feeling about how nice the morning was.
He said he suddenly realised how much he had going for him. He had legs. He could walk. He felt ashamed of his self-pity. He said to himself that if this man could be cheerful and confident without legs, then surely he could with legs.
He said he felt more cheerful and confident immediately. When he got to the bank, he felt bold enough to ask them for double what he'd been going to ask them for. And he'd been going to say he wanted to try to get a job, but now he announced that he was going to get one. They gave him the loan, and he did get a job.
He said that after that, he always kept a little verse where he could see it that read:
I had the blues because I had no shoes.
Until upon the street I met a man who had no feet.
The author says that there can be a striking difference in our mood and attitude simply according to whether we focus on what's going wrong in our lives or whether we focus on everything that's going right in them.
He asks if we'd sell both our eyes for a billion dollars - whether it would be worth living with no eyesight for the rest of our lives if we were given a billion dollars in exchange. And he asks us what we'd accept in return for our legs. Or our hands. Our hearing. Children, families, and so on. He says that if we add up all the assets we have like that, we'll consider that we wouldn't sell them for hoards of gold. So if we thought we didn't have much in life before, we can realise we've got immeasurable riches really. He suggests we make a habit of regularly being thankful for what we have.
He says it's unfortunate that so many people focus their attentions on what they lack in life rather than what they have, because it makes them so unnecessarily miserable. He says that for most people, most of life will be going well, while a much smaller percentage of things are going wrong; but people tend to focus all their attention on what's not going right rather than what is.
The Businessman and the Disabled War Veteran
He tells the story of a man who told him that focusing on the things in his life that were going wrong rather than what was going right had nearly lost him his marriage, because he became so irritable all the time. He said he set himself up in business after he came out of the army, and for a while his company did really well. But then things started going badly. He couldn't get the materials he needed. He said he worried so much that he turned into an "old grouch", miserable and irritable. He got so bad that his wife was considering leaving and breaking up a home he considers precious to him, though he didn't realise how close he was to marriage break-up then.
But he said one day, a young disabled war veteran made him think, by saying:
"Johnny, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You take on as if you were the only person in the world with troubles. Suppose you do have to shut up shop for a while--so what? You can start up again when things get normal. You've got a lot to be thankful for. Yet you are always growling. Boy, how I wish I were in your shoes! Look at me. I've got only one arm, and half of my face is shot away, and yet I am not complaining: If you don't stop your growling and grumbling, you will lose not only your business, but also your health, your home, and your friends!"
The man telling the story said those comments stopped him in his tracks. They made him realise how well-off he was really, and he resolved to go back to being his old self, ... and he did.
The author says a friend of his learned to cherish what she had instead of feeling miserable about what she lacked, and in the end, it brought her a lot of happiness. She said she'd been at university at one time, doing all kinds of fun activities - horse riding, parties and dancing. She was studying music and teaching it to others. But one day, she collapsed, and the doctor said she'd have to spend a year in bed.
A whole year! Wow, things have changed since the time this book was written! I'm sure they wouldn't tell people to do that nowadays.
Anyway, the doctor didn't say if she'd ever get strong again, and she was terrified she might die. She said she wept and wailed and was bitter and rebellious, asking what she'd done to deserve it. But she did go to bed.
A neighbour told her it might not be such a bad thing, because she'd have time to think and get to know herself better. He said she'd probably make more spiritual growth in the next few months than she had so far in her life.
She said she became calmer, and tried to develop a new sense of values. She read books of inspiration. She realised how important thoughts are in shaping what kind of personalities people have, and resolved to try to only think thoughts she wanted to shape her own personality - thoughts of joy and health and happiness. She said she forced herself every morning to go over in her mind all the things she had to be grateful for: she didn't have any pain; she had a 'lovely' young daughter; she had her eyesight and her hearing; she could hear lovely music on the radio; she had time to read good books; she had good food; and she had good friends.
She said she became so cheerful and had so many visitors that the doctor put up a sign that said she was only allowed one visitor at a time, and only at certain hours.
She said that since then, she'd picked up a full, active life again; but she was deeply grateful for that year she spent in bed. She said it turned out to be the happiest she'd had in that part of the country. She said it had taught her the habit of counting her blessings every morning, and she was deeply thankful for that. She said she was ashamed to say she never really learned to live till she was afraid she was going to die.
The author says he read a book by someone who even took pleasure in washing the dishes. She'd been born with very poor eyesight; and she'd had an operation in middle age that had made it much better; and then for the first time, she could see beauty all around her. She began to find it fascinating to pick up a little ball of soap bubbles from the sink of washing up, hold it to the light, and look at the brilliant colours of a miniature rainbow in it.
The author says someone wrote to him and told him that when she was growing up, she'd been morbidly shy. She was a bit overweight, and wasn't given nice clothes to wear, so she didn't feel that acceptable in society. She married a man whose family were poised and self-confident, and she knew she ought to be like that. So she started pretending to be when she was with them, but she over-acted, and she knew it, and would be miserable for days afterwards. She became nervous and irritable, avoided friends, and even began to dread the sound of the doorbell. Eventually, she became so miserable that she began to think of committing suicide.
But she said one day, her mother-in-law happened to be talking about how she'd brought her children up, and said,
"No matter what happened, I always insisted on their being themselves."
The woman telling the story said the bit about being themselves really hit home. It suddenly struck her that she'd brought all her misery on herself, by trying to be something she wasn't. She changed overnight.
She said that after that, she started being herself. She studied her personality to find out more about herself. She thought about her strong points. She learned all about colours and styles, and dressed in a way she thought suited her. She said she reached out to make friends. She joined a small organisation, and was scared when they asked her to speak in public; but she spoke several times and became more confident every time.
She said that since then, she'd grown happier than she'd ever been before. And she always told her children that whatever happened, they ought to be themselves, so they wouldn't make the same mistake she did.
The author says a famous singer nearly failed when she started out because she was ashamed of the way her teeth stuck out and tried to pull her lip down over them to hide them the first time she went on stage, making herself look silly. But a man in the audience encouraged her afterwards not to try to hide them, saying that when the audience saw her enjoying herself singing, they'd like her anyway. She took his advice, and sang with such enjoyment that she became a top star in radio and film.
The author says that someone who'd interviewed sixty thousand job applicants told him the most common mistake among job applicants is trying to be something they're not, giving the answers they think the interviewer wants to hear, rather than being frank and saying what they really think. He said no one wants someone who seems phoney.
The author says that wise people will have a go at turning their misfortunes into positive experiences, but "fools" will give up, thinking things are hopeless, sinking into a mire of self-pity and railing against the world.
He says a woman he knows spent the Second World War in a desert in California, since her husband was stationed at an army training camp near there. She hated the place at first. She said she'd never before been so miserable. When he was out training in the desert, she was left in a tiny hut on her own. She said the heat was unbearable. She said there wasn't anyone to talk to. The wind blew all the time, and everything she ate, and the air she breathed, was forever full of sand.
She said she was so full of misery and self-pity that she wrote to her parents, saying she couldn't stand it any more and was coming back home.
She said her father answered with just two lines - two lines she's come to treasure since, two lines that completely altered her life:
Two men looked out from prison bars,
She said she read those two lines over and over again. She was ashamed of herself. She determined to find out what was good in her situation.
She said she made friends with the natives, and their reaction amazed her. When she showed interest in their weaving and pottery, they gave her presents of some of their favourite pieces that they'd refused to sell to tourists. She said she studied the "fascinating" forms of cacti and other desert plants. She learned about prairie dogs, watched out for the desert sunsets, and hunted for seashells that had been left there aeons ago when the desert had been an ocean floor.
She said while conditions in the desert were still the same, her experience of it was transformed because of the change in her attitude. She said it turned into the most exciting adventure of her life. She said she found the experience so stimulating and exciting that she wrote a book about it. She said, "I had looked out of my self-created prison and found the stars."
The author says he thinks that some of the greatest happiness can be found through achievements and triumph when bad experiences have been turned to good.
He says he went to see a farmer in Florida who'd been discouraged when he first bought his farm, because the soil was so poor that no fruit would grow, and no livestock could graze. Nothing thrived there except scrubby plants and rattlesnakes.
But then the farmer got a good idea. He decided to make the most of the poisonous rattlesnakes. To everyone's surprise, he started canning their meat.
The farm turned into a tourist attraction, with twenty thousand visitors a year, who saw poison from the fangs of the rattlesnakes being sent away to laboratories to make anti-venom, and rattlesnake skins being sold at fancy prices to make women's shoes and handbags. Canned rattlesnake meat was being shipped from there to customers all over the world. The village nearby had been renamed "Rattlesnake" in honour of the place.
The author says he once met a man with no legs in a hotel. He was struck by how cheerful he looked, so he asked him to tell him his story. The man said he'd lost his legs in a car accident. He said he was only twenty-four when it happened, so a life in a wheelchair seemed daunting. For some time, he complained and fumed in anger and rebellion at what had happened. But after some years, he realised that attitude wasn't getting him anywhere but was just making him bitter. He said he realised that people were kind and courteous to him, so the least he could do was to be kind and courteous back.
The author asked him if he still saw his accident as a terrible misfortune. He immediately said he didn't. In fact, he said that nowadays, he was almost glad that it had happened. He said after he got over the shock and resentment, he began to live in a different world. He took up reading, and developed a love of good literature. He said in fourteen years, he must have read over fourteen hundred books, and they'd made his life more interesting than he'd ever thought possible. He'd developed a love of good music, and enjoyed symphonies that he wouldn't have wanted to bother with before. But the most important thing was that he'd had time to think, and he'd developed a new sense of values. He realised that most of the things he'd been striving for before weren't really worthwhile at all.
The author says that as a result of his reading, the man became interested in politics and public questions. He made speeches from his wheelchair. He got to know people and people got to know him. And eventually, still in his wheelchair, he got to be Secretary of State for the state of Georgia.
The author says he knows a lot of people who regret not having gone to college, and think it means they haven't got much chance of success in life. But he says that isn't true. He says he knows thousands of people who never went to college and yet made successes of their lives.
He tells the story of one such man, who didn't even finish high school. He was brought up in grinding poverty. His father died, and his friends had to donate money for his coffin. Then to support the family, the boy's mother went out to work in an umbrella factory for ten hours a day and then brought piecework home which she did till late in the evening to make a little more money.
The boy joined an amateur dramatics club that met in his church. He loved acting, and decided to start public speaking. That led him into politics.
The author says that by the time he reached 30, he'd been elected to the New York State legislature. But he felt out of his depth. He didn't know what it was all about. He studied the long, complex bills he was meant to vote on, but couldn't understand them. He was worried and bewildered when he was made a member of the forestry committee when he'd never even set foot in a forest. He felt just as bad when he was made a member of the State Banking Commission before he'd even had a bank account. He felt so overwhelmed with discouragement that he would have resigned from the legislature if he hadn't been ashamed to admit defeat to his mother. In despair, he decided to study sixteen hours a day to gain the knowledge he needed.
The author says that by doing that, he managed to transform himself from a local politician to a national one, and made himself so outstanding that the New York Times called him "the best-loved citizen of New York".
He says the man was Al Smith, who, ten years after he'd started his regime of self-education, was the greatest living authority on the government of New York State. He was elected governor of New York for four terms, something no one else had then achieved. He became the Democratic candidate for president in 1928. Six universities gave him honorary degrees.
The author says the more he's studied people who've achieved great things, the more he's become convinced that for a surprisingly large number of them, their success was built on their attempts to overcome their misfortunes. Their hardships were what spurred them on to greater things.
He quotes from a book that says, "... People who pity themselves go on pitying themselves even when they are laid softly on a cushion, but always in history character and happiness have come to people in all sorts of circumstances, good, bad, and indifferent, when they shouldered their personal responsibility."
He says he believes that if people feel too discouraged to try to overcome their misfortunes, they still ought to try, because even if they don't feel optimistic that they'll succeed, trying will have two benefits: One is that they might in fact succeed; and the other is that in the act of trying, they'll be turning their attention to the future instead of brooding on the past; they'll be turning their thoughts positive instead of negative; it'll release creative energy in them and they'll get so busy they'll have no time to mourn over what's past and gone, and they won't feel like doing that anyway in their new positive mood.
The author tells several stories about people whose sense of well-being and happiness improved after they started devoting care and attention to other people.
He says a man told him the story of how he was left with no parents at the age of twelve after his mother had walked out on the family three years earlier, never to return, and his father was killed in a car accident. His relatives took in some of his siblings, but not him and his little brother. But they were found a home with a poor family.
He was scared the children at school would call him names for being an orphan, and they did. They bullied him, and he cried at home about it.
But one day, his new mother told him he'd be able to stop it happening if he started going out of his way to help the other children and get interested in them.
He said he did that. He studied hard and became top of the class, but he was never envied, because he helped the others with their schoolwork.
He said two elderly men died leaving widows, and another woman's husband deserted her. There wasn't a male left in their families, so he'd go to their farms on the way to and back from school and chop wood for them, milk their cows, and feed and water their animals.
He said no one bullied him any more. Everyone thought of him as a friend. They showed their feelings towards him years later after he came back from the navy and more than two hundred farmers came to see him the first day he was back, some of them driving eighty miles. He said their concern for him was really sincere.
He said he'd kept himself so busy and happy helping other people that he had few worries; and no one had called him names in a long time.
The author says someone wrote to tell him about a man who'd been bed-ridden for over twenty years with arthritis. Yet the person who wrote to him said he'd interviewed him for the local paper several times, and he'd never known anyone more unselfish or who got more out of life. He never wallowed in self-pity or thought the world owed him something. Instead, he wanted to serve others. He collected the names and addresses of other invalids and wrote happy letters of encouragement to them, cheering up both them and himself. In fact, he started a letter-writing club, where housebound people would write to each other. Eventually, he started a national organisation called the "Shut In Society". He wrote over fourteen hundred letters a year himself, and got radios and books for thousands of housebound people.
The author says the man's happiness would have come from the joy of knowing he had a purpose in life that he really cared about, and that he was involved in a worthwhile cause far more significant than himself, instead of being self-centred, making himself miserable by focusing on his limitations and aches and pains, and demanding that people devote themselves to making him happy.
The author says doing good for others can work wonders for people's own mental health because it stops people thinking about themselves - the very thing that causes fear and worry and melancholia.
He says a woman told him that five years earlier, she'd been mired in a feeling of self-pity and sorrow. She'd lost her husband, and as Christmas approached, her sadness grew deeper. She'd never spent a Christmas alone, and she dreaded having to spend that year's Christmas on her own. Friends had invited her to spend Christmas with them, but she didn't think she'd feel up to any jollity, so she didn't want to go and put a dampener on things by being miserable. She said that as Christmas Eve approached, she was more and more overwhelmed with self-pity. She realises now that she should have been thankful for many things instead, since we've all got a lot to be thankful for.
She decided to try to cheer herself up a bit. She left her office in the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Eve and walked around the streets. They were full of happy crowds that brought back memories of happier times. She couldn't bear the thought of going home to a lonely and empty home, but didn't know what to do. She walked aimlessly for over an hour, and couldn't hold the tears back.
Then, she found herself in front of a bus terminal. She thought back to the times when her and her husband had often boarded a bus not knowing where it was going, for adventure. She decided to do that. She got on the next bus that came along, and stayed on it till she was told they were at the last stop. She didn't know the name of the town she was in, but it was a quiet place. She decided to walk around before getting the bus back.
Walking up a side street, she heard a Christmas carol being played by an organ in a church. She decided to go in. It was deserted apart from the organist. There were beautiful Christmas decorations. The soothing music from the organ and the fact she hadn't eaten for hours made her drowsy, and she fell asleep.
She said that when she woke up, she didn't know where she was and was terrified for a moment. Then she saw two children who'd come in to look at the Christmas tree looking at her. They were frightened when she woke up. She told them she wasn't going to hurt them.
She said she asked them where their parents were, and they said they didn't have any. She noticed they were poorly dressed. She realised they must be much worse off than she had ever been. She felt ashamed of her sorrow and self-pity. She showed them the Christmas tree and then went somewhere else with them and they had some refreshments. She bought them a few presents and sweets. She said her loneliness disappeared as if by magic. The two orphans gave her the only real happiness and self-forgetfulness she'd had in months. As she chatted with them, she realised how lucky she'd been. All her own childhood Christmases had been filled with fun and parental tenderness, unlike theirs.
She said the two little orphans did far more for her than she did for them. She said the experience showed her again how happiness can be gained by making other people happy. She said happiness is contagious - by giving, we receive. She said that by helping people and giving out love, she'd banished worry and sorrow and self-pity, and she felt like a new person. She said she really was a new person - not only then, but in the years afterwards.
The author tells the story of a woman who was lying around in bed after having had heart trouble. She could only get up to go a little way into the garden to sunbathe, leaning on the arm of her maid. But when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, because she had a telephone when many people didn't, she was asked by the Red Cross to be a centre of information for people. So she kept track of what was happening, and people were told to phone her to find out about what was happening to their families. People started phoning her asking whether their husbands were allright. She found herself encouraging the ones whose husbands were missing, and giving words of consolation to the ones whose husbands had died. She had to give out all kinds of information, and though she started talking to people while she was lying in bed, after a while, she got so excited that she sat up, and then got up. Her weakness was just forgotten in her excitement. She forgot herself in helping people much worse off than she was. And she said she never went to bed after that apart from for her normal night's sleep.
She said she'd been so comfortable in bed, being waited on, that she doesn't think she'd have got up, and may have remained a semi-invalid all her life, if it wasn't for that day.
The author says that the psychiatrist Carl Jung said he thought that a third of people who go to psychiatrists could cure themselves if they'd get interested in helping others. He said a third of his patients were suffering from no more than a sense of the emptiness and senselessness of life. The author says he thinks they must have been self-centredly complaining that the world wasn't doing enough for them, when really, they just needed to give their lives meaning by getting involved in something fulfilling.
The author says that some of his readers might be wondering what relevance the stories in his book have for them, since nothing dramatic ever happens to them, and so they haven't got anything to motivate them to help anyone and don't see why they should. But he says people don't have to do anything spectacular to help others. Just showing an interest in people around us can really give them pleasure, asking about their lives, and complimenting them on things. And he says when we do, we'll become much happier ourselves and have more pride in ourselves. We can even make a lot of friends and have a lot of fun that way.
He says someone told him he was once doing a train journey in the sweltering heat of a summer's day, and he wanted something to eat. The service was slow where he went and it was some time before he was served. When the steward gave him the menu, he commented that the cooks in the kitchen must be suffering in the heat. The steward was amazed that he should have thought of the cooks. He said many people complained about the food or the slow service or the heat or the prices, but it was the first time in all the nineteen years he'd been there that someone had expressed any sympathy for the cooks in the boiling kitchen. He said he wished there were more passengers like him.
The man told the author he would often compliment people wherever he went, and he could see it made them happy, and that in turn made him happy to know he was making them happy.
The author says someone else told him that when she was growing up, her family were very poor, and she felt awkward because they couldn't afford to entertain people the way her friends did, and her clothes weren't as nice as her friends' clothes. They often didn't fit and were out of fashion, because her family couldn't afford new ones. She felt so humiliated and ashamed that she often cried herself to sleep.
But then one day, she got the idea of always asking her partner at a dinner party about his experiences, his ideas, and his plans for the future. She didn't want to ask the questions because she was particularly interested in the people she was talking to, but because she hoped it would divert their attention from the way she looked. But she found that as she asked questions and they told her about themselves, she really did become interested in them, so interested in fact that sometimes she forgot about her clothes.
She said something even better happened. Because she was a good listener and encouraged them to talk about themselves, it made them happy, and she eventually became the most popular girl in the group because of it; and three of the men proposed marriage!
The author says that some of the most famous people in history, people now considered honourable by historians, were cruelly criticized when they were alive. He says unfair criticism can often be a disguised compliment, since jealous people will criticize people more savagely the more important and successful they are. He says some people get satisfaction out of trying to belittle people more important than they are, or who are achieving more with their lives. It makes them feel more important themselves.
He says most people worry about little criticisms far more than they should, because chances are that many of the people who hear them either won't be interested in them, or they will have forgotten about them soon, since people are far more interested in themselves and what they're doing than they are in worrying about the criticisms of others they hear.
He says he was upset once because someone wrote an article for a newspaper criticizing him and the evening classes he was running. But after a while, he realised that half the people who got the paper probably wouldn't read the article; half of those who did would simply consider it light entertainment; and half the people who gloated over it would probably have forgotten about it within a few weeks. He says most people would be far more concerned if they had a mild headache than they would if they heard about the death of any one of us. People tend to think about themselves all day, from beginning to end, and are dwelling on what they think of others far less than others might think.
He says he isn't suggesting people ignore all criticism, but that they don't let unjust criticism bother them.
He says he asked Eleanor Roosevelt if she was ever bothered by unjust criticism, and she said she had been when she was young. She said she had once asked an aunt what to do, because she wanted to do something but was scared of being criticized. Her aunt told her,
"Never be bothered by what people say, as long as you know in your heart you are right."
She said she found that advice a great comfort later when she was in the White House, when she had a lot of unjust criticism. She said people are going to get criticized whatever they do. It's "Damned if you do; damned if you don't". So the important thing is just to do what you know to be right.
The author says he spoke to the boss of a company who said he used to get worried about criticism. He wanted his employees to think he was perfect, and it bothered him when they didn't. But the thing he did to try to patch things up with one person tended to stir someone else up against him, and then when he tried to patch things up with them, a couple of others would get annoyed. Eventually, he realised that the more he tried to smooth things over to avoid personal criticism, the more he got. So he came around to thinking that people are bound to get criticized whatever they do, so he may as well just get used to it. He said that realisation helped him a lot, and he started doing what he thought best, and then just let criticism come and go.
The author says another man had a job where he gave comments on the radio during the intervals in symphonies an orchestra played, and one woman wrote to him calling him a "liar, a traitor, a snake and a moron". He read the letter out the next week in front of millions of people and laughed at it.
The author says that Abraham Lincoln had heaps of venomous criticism and condemnation poured on him. Lincoln commented that he wouldn't be able to do anything to run the country if he read it all, let alone answered it! He said he did the very best he could, and if things turned out allright, it wouldn't matter what people had said. And if things didn't, it wouldn't have been worthwhile him saying he was right and his critics were wrong.
The author says that if he wrote a memo to himself every time he did a foolish thing, he'd have a filing cabinet bursting with them by now. He says he does have a folder of them, and he reads them from time to time. He says they help him manage his life. They remind him that although he used to blame other people for his problems, as he's grown older, and he hopes wiser, he's realised that ultimately, he's brought most of them on himself. He says he thinks lots of people realise that as they get older.
He says he once asked a successful company director the reason for his success. The director said that every Saturday night, his family know not to make any plans for him, because that's the time when he examines his behaviour and appraises his activities during the past week - all the discussions and interviews he's held - to think through any mistakes he made and how to do things better. He said he would ask himself what lessons he could learn from what he did wrong, and how he could do what he did right even better. He said these reviews of his performance often made him very unhappy, because he often realised he'd made mistakes during the week, especially in the early days. And yet thinking through how he could learn from those mistakes had done more to promote his success than anything else he'd done.
The author says he might have learned to do that from the example of Benjamin Franklin, who criticized himself at the end of each day, trying to improve. He reckoned he had thirteen serious faults, and he'd have a go at working on one at a time. Three faults he thought he had were time-wasting, arguing and contradicting people, and brooding on petty grievances. He reckoned he wasn't going to get very far if he didn't eliminate those faults. So he decided to work on one each week. Every day for a week, he'd battle with one of them and then assess who'd won at the end of the day. At the end of the week, he'd move on to another one. He did that for two years. The author says it's no wonder he became so well-loved and influential.
The author says that small-minded people fly into a rage over the slightest criticism; but wise ones are eager to learn from it.
But he says that if we ourselves engage in criticism of ourselves or our work, we can have a go at improving before our enemies get the chance to criticize us.
He says that Abraham Lincoln didn't get angry even when someone in his government once called him a "damned fool". He'd bowed to the wishes of a selfish politician and signed an order transferring several regiments in the American Civil War. His Secretary of War, Edward Stanton, called him a "damned fool", and refused to carry out the orders. When Abraham Lincoln was told, he said, "If Stanton said I am a damned fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I'll just step over and see for myself."
Lincoln did go to see him. They had a talk, and Lincoln decided he'd been wrong, and withdrew the order.
The author says Lincoln welcomed criticism when he knew it was sincere, founded on knowledge of a situation, and meant to be helpful.
He says that everyone of us ought to welcome such criticism too, since we can't hope to always be right. In fact, he says that even Einstein said his conclusions were wrong 99% of the time!
He says that a famous person said that the opinions of our enemies come closer to the truth about us than our own opinions do. He says that might be true quite a lot of the time, but when we're criticized, we tend to leap to the defensive however justified the criticism is. He says he does it if he isn't watching himself, before he's found out what points his critic is making; and then he gets annoyed with himself every time for having done it. He says we all tend to resent criticism and enjoy praise, no matter how justified either of them is, since our emotions can often hold sway over our logical thinking.
He recommends that every time our anger rises because we think we've been unjustly criticized, we stop to think about whether there may be any truth in the criticism at all, anything we can learn from to improve something about ourselves.
The Soap Salesman
He says there was a former soap salesman who was worried when he first started out because he wasn't making many sales. He used to wonder why. He knew there was nothing wrong with the soap or the price, so he thought it must be something to do with his sales technique. So sometimes, he went back to the merchants he'd been trying to sell the soap to and said he hadn't come back to try to sell them anything else, but he'd like their advice and criticism on why he hadn't managed to sell them the soap before, since they were more experienced and successful than he was.
The author says he won a lot of friends that way, and he gained a lot of valuable advice. Putting it into practice made him so successful that he rose to be president of the Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Soap Company, which was one of the world's largest soap companies.
The author says if we ask for helpful, unbiased and constructive criticism, it can be of great value.
The author says that when people are tired, they can be more likely to get worried and fearful.
He says there's a man who's written a couple of books on relaxation who says it's impossible to be worried or fearful or to be suffering other damaging emotions when completely relaxed.
So the author recommends people rest often, even before they get tired, since when tiredness comes on, it can become overwhelming quite quickly. He says the US army would make people rest ten minutes in every hour while they were marching, even when they were well-trained. He says that several famous people have told him that before they go out to perform or make speeches, they like to have a nap, and then they feel refreshed.
He says he once advised a Hollywood director to stretch out and relax on his couch in meetings. He'd known someone else who did that while interviewing students, who said he felt a lot better that way. The Hollywood director had been feeling exhausted a lot, and nothing the doctors did helped. But he tried the advice, and later, said it had made him feel a lot better. Instead of sitting up tensely in his chair, he was now relaxing, and felt completely renewed. He said he could work for two hours longer a day without getting tired.
The author says he knows it won't be practical for everyone to have naps or relax just when they want to. But people who live near their work and go home for lunch could take a ten minute nap during their lunch break. Or he suggests people could have a short sleep before their evening meal. He says a short sleep in the day and less sleep at night is better than a longer stretch of unbroken sleep at night.
He says a man did a study of workers who were required to load heavy bars of iron onto trains, who were exhausted by noon. He felt sure they could load four times as much if they'd rest more rather than exhausting themselves by trying to do everything at once. He set out to prove it by choosing one man to experiment on. The man was told when to rest and when to work each day, and he rested for more time each hour than he worked, and yet he managed to load four times as much as the others, as predicted.
The author says that it's been found in a scientific study that brain work in itself doesn't make people tired. If someone's using their brain all day and enjoying it, they won't feel tired at the end of it. But it's thought that what causes fatigue is usually emotions such as resentment, boredom, worry, anxiety, a feeling of not being appreciated, hurry, futility, and so on. He says our emotions can cause nervous tensions that can make us feel exhausted. They can make us more susceptible to illness, especially things like nervous headaches, and reduce our output.
He recommends people stop and examine themselves to find out how relaxed their posture is. He suggests we ask ourselves whether we feel any strain between the eyes, whether we're scowling, whether we're sitting relaxed, or whether our shoulders are hunched up, and whether the muscles in our face are tensed. He says that unless our bodies are as relaxed and limp as a rag doll, we will at this very minute be producing nervous and muscular tensions and nervous fatigue. He says some people feel they need to be tense when working, because that's what the effort requires. But people tend to tense muscles they don't need to. And it isn't true that concentration in itself requires people to be tense.
He says the answer is to relax while working. He says it won't be easy, since it'll probably be reversing the habits of a lifetime. But it'll be worth it. Relaxation can become a new habit.
He says there's a good technique of muscle relaxation people can use. He says it's good to start with the muscles rather than trying to relax anything else first, like the mind, since when the muscles are relaxed, other things can follow.
He suggests people read his description of the relaxation technique, and then lean back, close their eyes, and do what it says for a few moments:
The technique suggests people lean back, relax and close their eyes, and then say silently to their eyes first, "Eyes, let go. Let go. Stop straining. Stop frowning. Relax."
He recommends that people very slowly and soothingly say that over and over again for a minute.
He says that when people have tried it, they've noticed that even within seconds, they felt as if their tension was disappearing.
He says people can do the same thing with the jaw, with the other muscles in the face, with the neck, with the shoulders, and with other parts of the body. But he says the eyes are the most important.
He says people can take odd moments to relax throughout the day.
But he says it won't work if people make an effort to relax, since the concentration of effort produces tension. People should try to go as limp as possible, and focus on any increasing feeling of relaxation being caused by tension leaving the body.
He says getting into a routine of relaxation can also prevent nervousness before anything special we have to do.
He recommends that people work, as far as possible, in a comfortable position, where they can have their shoulders and other parts of their body relaxed. It'll cut down on aches and pains and nervous fatigue.
He recommends people check themselves at least five times a day to see how relaxed they are, or whether they're using muscles they don't need to use, hunching shoulders and so on. People should ask themselves whether they're making their work harder than it is by using muscles they don't actually need to use for their work.
He says that'll help break the habit of automatically tensing muscles, and build the habit of relaxation.
He says people should check themselves again at the end of the day. If they're tired, they should ask themselves what discontented emotions have caused it. Tiredness means the day has been less efficient than it could be. So then people can set their minds to working out how to make their days more enjoyable to decrease their tiredness.
The author says there's a class that meets once a week at a medical clinic, where the people who go there get thorough medical examinations before they go, but if nothing is found to be physically wrong with them, the treatment is all psychological. It's a class on how to cure worry. He says that many of the patients are emotionally disturbed housewives.
He says the class started after a doctor noticed that many people who came for medical attention had severe pains, but didn't seem to have anything physically wrong with them. One woman's hands were so crippled with what she took to be arthritis that she couldn't use them. Another one thought he must have stomach cancer because of his painful symptoms. Others had headaches, backaches, were chronically tired, or had vague aches and pains. The pains were very real, though medical examinations found nothing wrong with them. Some doctors would have sent the patients away saying it was all in their imaginations. But that doctor didn't think there would be any point in that, because they didn't want to be ill, but didn't know how to cure themselves.
So he started a class on curing worry, though many doctors doubted it would work. But he said the class worked wonders! In the following years, thousands of people were cured of their pains when they learned to stop worrying. Some attended the class for years.
The author says his assistant visited one of the classes, and spoke to a woman who'd been going for nine years, who said that when she first attended the clinic, she was convinced she had a heart problem and a floating kidney. She got so worried and tense that she had spells where she lost her eyesight for a time. But since then, she'd become confident and cheerful and was in "excellent" health. She only looked about forty, and yet she held one of her grandchildren asleep in her lap. She said she used to worry so much about her family troubles that she wished she could die. But she'd learned at the clinic that there wasn't any point in worrying, and she'd learned to stop it. She said she could honestly say that her life had become serene.
The author says the doctor who was currently the medical advisor of the class said she thought that one of the best remedies for worry was to talk problems over with a trusted person. She said that in the class, people could talk their worries over for some time until they were off their minds. She said brooding on worries alone, keeping them to oneself, causes a lot of nervous tension. She said everyone has to feel they can talk their worries over with someone. There has to be someone in everyone's lives who they feel they can turn to and who will understand them.
The author says his assistant told him about the calming effect that talking had on one woman, who was really tense when she started, but gradually relaxed more and more as she carried on, till at the end, she was smiling. The problem hadn't been solved, and yet she was feeling more relaxed just because she'd talked through her worries, and got a bit of sympathy and a bit of advice.
The author says he feels sure that everyone knows the relief that can be got from getting things off our chests. So he recommends that next time we have an emotional problem, we find someone to talk to. He says that of course he doesn't mean we should make a nuisance of ourselves complaining to everyone. But he recommends we find someone we trust and make an appointment with them, perhaps a relative or church minister. He recommends that when we do, we explain that they'd help us a lot if they could sit and listen to us, perhaps commenting to help us see things in new ways, though if they can't think of anything to say, even just listening will really help us.
He says that talking wasn't the only treatment prescribed by the class on curing worry. He says another idea we can pick up from it is that we get ourselves a notebook or scrapbook, and then when we come across short inspirational quotes or prayers or poems or sayings that give us a lift, we paste or write them down in it, and then whenever a "rainy afternoon" depresses us, we look through it, and see if we can find something to cheer us up. The author says many people in the class had them, and they found them useful that way.
He says another thing the class taught is that we shouldn't brood too much on other people's faults. He says one woman who had found herself turning into a nagging, scolding, haggard-faced wife was suddenly made to think, by being asked the question, "What if your husband died?" He says she was so shocked by the idea that she immediately sat down and wrote out a list of her husband's good points. The list ended up quite long.
The author says people who are becoming irritated or disillusioned with their spouse could try the same thing. They might discover that their spouse is someone they want to spend more time with after all.
He says that a third thing the class taught was that people should develop a friendly, healthy interest in other people.
He says one woman who felt ill and thought she didn't have any friends was told to make up a story about the next person she met. On the bus home, she made up stories about the backgrounds and living environments of the people she saw. Then she got curious to know more about them for real. So she started talking to people more and more, and after a while became charming, alert and happy, and cured of the pains she'd had.
Another thing the class recommended was that people write out a schedule for themselves in the evening of things they're going to do the next day. He says the class found that a lot of people felt pressured and stressed by the number of tasks they had to do in a day. They never got their work finished. They felt that time was against them. So to cure their sense of hurry and worry, it was recommended that people think out a schedule of tasks each night that they needed to do the following day, so they could go through them systematically one by one and not feel overwhelmed by them.
He says the class found that when people did that, they found they were getting more work done, feeling much less tired, feeling proud of what they'd achieved each day, and having time left over for rest and fun.
Another thing the class taught people was that they needed to set aside time to physically relax. They taught relaxation exercises, such as the one with the muscles the author mentions. The author says that while tension and fatigue can make people look old, relaxing can keep people looking young.
He suggests other relaxation exercises.
The author says that a director of a railway company said,
"A person with his desk piled high with papers on various matters will find his work much easier and more accurate if he clears that desk of all but the immediate problem on hand. I call this good housekeeping, and it is the number-one step toward efficiency."
The author says that many people have their desks cluttered with papers that haven't been looked at for weeks; and the mere sight of a desk cluttered with unanswered letters, memos and reports is enough to breed confusion, tension and worries. He says the worry it causes can even lead to symptoms of physical illness. He says an overwhelming feeling of chaos caused by the feeling that there are endless things to be done and limited resources to do them can seriously affect the mental health over time.
He says a psychiatrist told of how a patient avoided a nervous breakdown by simply resolving to keep his desk uncluttered. The psychiatrist said the man came to him one day, tense, nervous and worried. He was an important businessman. The psychiatrist said that while the man was in his office, the phone rang, and the businessman had to wait while he spoke to the person on the other end. It was someone from the hospital enquiring about something. Instead of putting the matter off, he took time to come to a decision about it right away. He'd only just hung up the phone when it rang again, and it was another urgent matter that needed dealing with. Again, instead of putting the matter off, he took time to deal with it right then and there. He had yet another interruption after that when a colleague of his came in for advice on a patient who was critically ill.
After that, the psychiatrist apologised to the businessman for keeping him waiting. But the man had cheered up. He had a completely different facial expression. He told the psychiatrist not to apologise, since he thought that in the last ten minutes, he'd got some idea of what was wrong with him. He said he was going to go away and revise his working habits. But before he went, he wanted to see inside the psychiatrist's desk.
The psychiatrist opened the drawers, and they were all empty except for supplies. The businessman asked him where he kept his unfinished business. The psychiatrist said, "Finished!" The businessman asked where he kept his unanswered mail, and he said, "Answered!" He said he had a rule never to put down a letter till he'd answered it. He said he would dictate an answer to his secretary then and there.
The businessman took a lesson from that. Six weeks later, he invited the psychiatrist to see him in his office. He was changed, and so was his desk. He opened the drawers in it to show the psychiatrist there was no unfinished business in it. He said that six weeks before, he'd had three different desks in two different offices and was overwhelmed with work. He was never finished. But after talking to the psychiatrist, he'd come back and cleared out tons of old reports and paperwork. He said that since then, he'd started dealing with things as they came up. He had one desk, and he didn't have a mountain of unfinished work nagging at him and making him feel tense and worried.
But he said the most surprising thing was that there was nothing wrong with him anymore - he'd completely recovered his mental health.
The author says another thing that can diminish worry caused by a feeling of having too much work to do is to do things in order of their importance whenever possible, to be methodical, writing out a list of things before they have to be done and putting them in order of their priority.
He says another good working habit that'll cut down worry is to solve problems then and there, if people have enough facts to do so.
He tells of a director of a company who told him his board of directors used to spend hours in meetings where a succession of problems were brought up, but they rarely reached solutions, so they tended to have to carry a bundle of reports home with them each time to work on in their spare time. But eventually, he persuaded them to work on one problem at a time and come to a solution before moving to the next one. Decision-making was no longer to be put off. He said the decision might be to look for more facts before coming to a conclusion, to do something or to do nothing. But some kind of decision was reached on each problem before they moved on to the next thing.
He said the results were quite remarkable. Much more got done; and they no longer had to carry reports home with them. They no longer had a worried sense of problems hanging over them that weren't solved.
The author says that everyone ought to try to work that way.
He says the fourth rule is that people should learn to plan and delegate authority to others so they don't have to do so much themselves. He says he knows it can be disastrous if authority is delegated to the wrong people. But it is important to work on finding trustworthy people to delegate responsibility to, to eliminate the sense of being overwhelmed by detail and confusion, hurry and worry that causes anxiety and tension and can even shorten people's lives.
The author says he knows it can be very hard to delegate responsibilities. But people have to do it for the sake of their health. He says people who build up big businesses but don't learn to delegate their responsibilities and supervise rather than doing everything themselves can suffer worry and fatigue, and the tension can be so bad it can lead to heart trouble that can send them to an early grave.
The author says boredom is one of the main causes of fatigue. He says many people have probably had an experience like coming home from work feeling exhausted, with a headache and backache, not even wanting to wait for dinner before getting in bed and falling asleep; but then a good friend rings them and invites them to a dance, and they immediately cheer up and feel much more lively. They go out, dance late into the night, and afterwards even feel too exhilarated to sleep. He says that doesn't mean the tiredness was imaginary before; but it can be caused by boredom. Emotional attitude usually has more to do with fatigue than physical exertion.
He says a psychologist did experiments to prove boredom causes fatigue where he gave people tasks to do that he knew they wouldn't find interesting, to see what happened. He said the students doing the tasks felt tired and sleepy, complained of headaches and eyestrain, and felt irritable. He said some even had stomach upsets. It wasn't just their imaginations. He measured the metabolism of each of them, and found that blood pressure and oxygen consumption fall when people are bored, and that the metabolism picks up immediately when a person becomes interested and finds pleasure in their work. Tiredness doesn't usually come on when people are doing something interesting and exciting. The author says walking ten blocks with a nagging spouse can be far more fatiguing than walking ten miles with an adoring sweetheart!
So he recommends people try to make their work as interesting and enjoyable as they can.
He says there was a typist who had an incredibly boring job for several days a month filling out printed forms with statistics and other figures. She decided to motivate herself to get the work done by having a competition with herself to see how many she could fill out. She counted the number she filled out in the morning, and tried to beat that total in the afternoon. Then she counted the number she'd filled out in one day, and tried to fill out more the next. The result was that she filled out more than any of the others in her department, and ended up with more energy and enthusiasm for life, and so she got far more happiness out of her leisure hours.
The author says insomnia isn't necessarily anything to worry about. People don't necessarily need as much sleep as they think. He says he knows of a famous lawyer who hardly got a good night's sleep in his life. When he'd been a student at college, he'd worried about his insomnia. But since he couldn't cure it, he'd decided to take advantage of his wakefulness instead. So instead of tossing and turning and worrying himself into a breakdown over it, he used the time to study, and ended up getting top marks in his courses, and being praised as one of the best students in the college.
Even after he started his career, he still had insomnia, but he still used it to his advantage in working harder than other lawyers. He stayed in good health, and ended up earning a lot more money at a young age. He died at eighty-one. But the author says that if he had worried over his insomnia, he would probably have ruined his life.
The author suggests that anyone who can't sleep gets up for a while and does something worthwhile till they get tired.
He says there was a Hungarian soldier who was shot in part of the head during the First World War. He recovered, but from then on, he couldn't sleep. The doctors said he wouldn't live long, but he lived in good health for years. He would lie down and rest, but not sleep.
The author says some people need more sleep than others, but no one knows why.
But he says that worrying about insomnia is far more damaging than insomnia itself.
He says he knows someone who told him he used to arrive late for work often because he didn't hear the alarm clock so he over-slept. He was threatened with the loss of his job. So he was desperate to do something about it. A friend suggested he concentrate on the alarm clock intensely before he went to sleep every night. He did. But soon, he became obsessed with it, and listening to it ticking away stopped him getting any sleep at all. In the mornings, he was ill with fatigue and worry. After a while, his mental health was so bad he worried he was going insane. He would pace the floor for hours, and was so anxious about it he considered jumping out of the window and ending it all.
But after eight weeks, he went to a doctor he'd known all his life, who told him that only he could solve his problem, since he'd brought it on himself. The doctor advised him to stop worrying about whether he got any sleep or not. If he just lay down, closed his eyes and rested, he'd be allright. So he could reassure himself when he went to bed that it didn't matter whether he slept or not.
He said he took the advice, and within a fortnight, he was dropping off to sleep. Within a month, he was getting eight hours' sleep, and his nerves were feeling perfectly allright again.
The author says a doctor who's done a lot of research on sleep said insomnia doesn't kill people; but worrying about it might, sometimes because stress stops the immune system functioning so well, so people are more prone to infections.
The author says the doctor also said that most people who worry about insomnia actually sleep far more than they realise. People who say they never slept a wink the night before might in fact have slept for hours without realising. The author says there was a man who worried about his insomnia a lot, wore ear plugs to keep out the noise, and sometimes even took opium to induce sleep. He bored everyone with talk of his insomnia. But one night, he shared a room with a professor from Oxford. In the morning, he said as usual that he hadn't slept a wink, but actually it was the professor who hadn't slept, because he was kept awake by the man's snoring!
The author says a lot of people have found that prayer helps them sleep, because it gives them a sense of security that they're being cared for by a power greater than themselves.
But he says another thing that can work in helping to bring on sleep is relaxation exercises. He says a doctor who's written a book on relaxation says people can talk themselves into relaxation by repeatedly saying soothingly to the muscles of their body, "Let go. Loosen up and relax". He says it can help to put a pillow under the knees and small pillows under the arms to ease tension, and then tell the muscles to relax in turn, starting with facial muscles and working around the body.
The author says another cure for insomnia is physical exercise, sport or tiring physical work. When people are physically tired from exercise, they can fall asleep much more easily. He says one man he knows of was worried about insomnia, so he got a job for a while shovelling gravel and doing other physically demanding things, working for a railway. He got so tired that he found it a struggle to take the time to eat before he went to bed.
The author says that someone who was the vice president of the Psychological Corporation wrote a book describing experiences he'd had with patients, and he said there was one who wanted to commit suicide. The psychologist knew that arguing would only make him more insistent. So instead, he said to the man that if he was going to commit suicide, why not do it in a heroic way. He suggested the man run around the block until he dropped dead.
He said the man tried it several times. But each time he tried it, his mood grew better. By the third night, he was so tired and so relaxed that he went to bed and slept soundly. That was what the psychologist had really intended. The man started enjoying his exercise so much that he joined an athletics club and began to compete in competitive sports. Soon he was feeling so good he wanted to live forever!
Well, that's given me a lot to think about.
This article is written slightly differently from most articles. All the information in most of the articles in this series is written as if by someone finding out a lot of helpful information for the first time, just learning about it. That person themselves isn't real; they're just a representative of a lot of others suffering the same thing. Any little anecdotes they tell about their personal lives or those of people they know almost always have really happened though, usually either to the author or to someone else known to the author. The article comes with a very short story about them to set the scene, and presents all the self-help information as if it's what they're finding out and what they think of it.
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Pauline thinks she must have been a born worrier. She can remember worrying all the time even as a child. Her brother had a serious illness, and after that, she worried and worried that she might get something nasty. She still does. Her doctor recently told her that she has a borderline overactive thyroid, and she often gets anxious that it could be getting worse without her knowing and that she'll soon start having worse and worse symptoms.
When she goes shopping, she's often tempted to rush back home, because she worries she might have accidentally knocked a knob on the cooker before she went out without knowing, and the house might catch fire if she isn't there to stop it. Or she worries she might be burgled. Nothing bad has ever happened to her house when she's been out, but it doesn't stop her worrying. And she worries about all kinds of other things.
One day, she decides she can't stand living like that any more, and gets a self-help book about how to stop worrying. She finds it interesting. It's full of good stories about how other people have got out of the habit of worrying, and she hopes to learn from them. The book was first published in 1953, but as she reads it, she thinks it might be better than even some modern-day self-help books.
She mulls the information over in her mind. She learns from it, and in the coming weeks, her life improves a lot.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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This includes links to articles on depression, phobias and other anxiety problems, marriage difficulties, addiction, anorexia, looking after someone with dementia, coping with unemployment, school and workplace bullying, and several other things.
The articles are written in such a way as to convey the impression that they are not written by an expert, so as to make it clear that the advice should not be followed without question.
The author has a qualification endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry and has led a group for people recovering from anxiety disorders and done other such things; yet she is not an expert on people's problems, and has simply taken information from books and articles that do come from people more expert in the field.
There is no guarantee that the solutions the people in the articles hope will help them will work for everybody, and you should consider yourself the best judge of whether to follow their example in trying them out.
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