What are you fighting for?

Dr. Heitler’s Psychology Today post just came out and has almost immediately been listed as an “essential read.” Her topic is protest. She starts off talking about the political battles being fought around the world right now, especially the “Arab Spring” and the Occupy Wall Street protests. She then focuses down on our own personal battles. We end up much happier, she notes, when we are able to fight for something instead of just against something.

The power of positivity is one of my favorite subjects. There’s something to be said for not being too optimistic or naive. At the same time, more and more scientific studies come out that show being negative and anxious increases your chances of everything from headaches to heart attacks. If you believe bad things happen to you, they often do. If you believe good things happen to you, they often will.

I think scholars and leaders throughout history have touched on this subject. The Christian teachings of Jesus famously ask followers to always hold hope, faith, and love in their hearts…and so do teachings of Islam, Buddhism and Judaism and Hinduism. I can’t think of any belief system whose main tenants are for followers to be constantly fearful, pessimistic, and morose (this may occur among some sects but…well, I don’t want to get into that argument). The main message from all spheres of science and faith is that to attain happiness you must first embrace a positive mindset.

So back to protests. In her article, Dr. Heitler talks about the difference between today’s protests and the protests of the 60s she remembers. The 60s protests and the era in general had an atmosphere of joy and optimism. The protesters weren’t just against war or racism, they stood for peace, equality, and free expression. Much of todays politics and protest, in contrast, is about demonstrating against something and expressing shame, anger, guilt, and outrage. While strong negative emotions can be important motivators, it’s equally essential to have something good and tangible you are working towards. As Dr. Heitler asks, if you don’t have an identifiable goal, how are you going to get there?

It’s the same with your marriage problems as it is with a political idea. It’s much easier to find points of agreement when you talk about the things you like instead of focusing on what you don’t want or don’t like about the other person’s position. Chances are both of you have similar desires, and by being flexible you can find overlapping solutions to reach your goals. Getting stuck on what you don’t want is like pushing, while talking about what you would like is pulling. You can push against each other all you want, or you can band together to pull towards your common goals. This ends in mutually satisfying solutions.

Dr. Heitler’s article has made me think a lot about how the skills we teach in relationship counseling are incredibly important in all our interactions with fellow humans (for more see this post on PO2 in the workplace). I’d be interested to hear what you think.