The state of this country in general is sometimes so frightening and depressing that worrying about it is perfectly natural. The recent murder of the world-renowned qawwal, Shaheed Amjad Sabri, is a classic example of why Pakistanis are in a constant state of negativity. It feels as if there is no sense of physical or economic security out there — no beacon of hope.
The point to remember is that when we look at things from an individual perspective, no matter who one is, life is stressful and it may even appear to be hopeless. No one lives in a utopian world. Everybody’s life has issues — whether financial, health-related or psychological. The question is what do you do about it? Do you become negative and bitter? Obsess about your current predicament? Perpetually remain in a filthy mood and treat the people around you like emotional punching bags? The trick is to snap out of the negative space in one’s mind and focus on the good in your life. But that, we all know, is much easier said than done.
Training yourself to recognise negative thought patterns is one way of dealing with this problem. This requires you to actually watch and be aware of your thoughts. You need to stop your mind from wandering off by focusing on something that requires your full attention like cooking or driving a car or a work project. This breaks the cycle of anxiousness and criticism even before it begins. Fortunately, the human mind can only really focus on one thing at a time.
Negative thoughts are a habit of one’s brain that have to be broken. The problem is that the second you consciously try not to think about something, that’s all you can think about. It’s like when I say don’t think about the colour red. Now, all you will see is red. That’s just how the human brain is programmed.
Learning to recognise that your mind is about to veer into an unpleasant space is half the battle won. As Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened”. You see it is the ‘what ifs’ of life that drive us to madness, not so much the ‘what is’. Worrying about the future and feeling low about the past stands in the way of the joy of the here and now. Stressing about larger issues leads us to ignore the simple pleasures in life like reading a book or listening to music. We need to learn to live in the moment and appreciate it.
Avoiding stressful situations and people is always a good plan. If you find that you are prone to negativity then make a conscious effort to avoid people who put further unnecessary stress on you. If going to weddings reminds you of how you are still single, then don’t go. If meeting your aunt who constantly comments on your weight depresses you, then keep your communications with her short and sweet. Or better yet, avoid her altogether. These are all choices that we make. Is going to a wedding or meeting the aunt more important that your sanity and peace of mind?
Acceptance is also crucial to remaining sane. There are some things that are totally in our control and others that are not. I have a friend who has been waiting for a pay raise for two years. Every single time I meet her or speak to her she finds a way to bring it up. I know she is so obsessed with the fact that she is stuck in a rut at work that she has done nothing to change it. Instead, she has become ever more bitter and unproductive at work. Had she accepted that she is in a dead end job she would have applied for a new job a year and a half ago like everyone advised her.
Finally, learn to give yourself a pat on the back. When was the last time you congratulated yourself on your achievements? When we give ourselves positive reinforcement it pushes negative thoughts farther away. So every time you feel low, pull out a map. Stare at it until you realise what a great adventure life is and how there is so much left to do and so much left to see. Don’t let yourself get in the way of your own happiness.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2016.
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