Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Getting stuck

I was having a conversation with Eldest last night about life skills and heard myself say something like, "One of the most important skills you'll need in college is the ability to get un-stuck."

Maybe I'm getting inadvertently wise or something. Getting stuck actually is a big theme of adulthood. Sometimes we get stuck in a feeling, other times in a parenting situation we don't know how to handle, and other times we are mired down in life. Learning to unstick oneself is a skill most of us learn on the job.

When I read Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman years ago, I was struck by the connection between feelings of hopelessness (or 'stuckness') and depression. When people feel powerless to change a situation, they tend to give up and sink. Those who succeed find a different way to look at the problem and what caused it.

Research shows that people of my generation have a higher incidence of depression than people who grew up in the Great Depression or World War II. This seems odd. I wonder if part of the reason is that nowadays people expect life to be comfortable, whereas in prior generations people expected life to be hard. Expectations of how things should be affect our hopes, and from there, what causes us to feel hopeless.

There are many ways to get un-stuck: divergent thinking, prayer, resourcefulness, re-directing one's pattern of thought. I wish I could say I never get stuck any more, but life is life, and sometimes I get mired down. I'm not capable of being a perpetual optimist, so I focus on being resilient. What other choice do we have, really, but to bounce back?

Here's a thought: faith is the one thing in the modern world where there's a model for getting unstuck. We sin, we fall, we ask forgiveness, it's granted... and life goes on. We're to strive to be the best we can be, but it's considered normal to mess up. The other day Little Guy was naughty, and when he was caught he wailed, "I hate myself!" I raised an eyebrow, gave him an are you nuts? look and replied, "You don't have to hate yourself. You just have to say you're sorry."

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