After a rather heated discussion on an email list last fall, I have been keeping an eye out for research on mind body connections.  I had posted this list of “Ten Irrational Ideas” from Albert Ellis’s book A Guide to Rational Living. I read it in my 20s and discovered that not telling myself these things changed my life for the better.

  1. It is a dire necessity for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he or she does.
  2. One should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and achieving in virtually everything one does.
  3. Certain people or bad, wicked, or villainous and they should be severely blamed or punished for their sins.
  4. It is terrible, horrible, and catastrophic when things are not going the way one would like them to go.
  5. Human unhappiness is externally caused and people have little or no ability to control their sorrows or rid themselves of negative feelings.
  6. If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, one should be terribly occupied with and upset about it.
  7. It is easier to avoid facing many life difficulties and self-responsibilities than to undertake more rewarding forms of self-discipline.
  8. The past is all-important and because something once strongly affected one’s life it should indefinitely do so.
  9. People and things should be different from the way they are and it is catastrophic if perfect solutions to the grim realities of life are not immediately found.
  10. Maximum human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly ‘enjoying oneself’.

People reacted very strongly, and defended almost everything on the list as not irrational – which perhaps shows how much we are creating our own misery by believing these things.   I think essentially what Ellis did was condense and restate in a secular and psychological way ancient truths that have been expressed in religious traditions around the world.

The dire necessity to be loved can be seen as the opposite of God’s acceptance of every sinner, and the necessity of acting on one’s own conscience, not the approval of others.

The necessity of being perfect can be seen as the arrogance of thinking human perfection is attainable and the opposite of humility.

The necessity of punishing the sinner can be seen as the opposite of the concept expressed by the Quakers as “seeing God within” ourselves and others, and the Universalist ultimate forgiveness of everyone.

And of course, the basis of Buddhism is the idea that human unhappiness is caused by telling ourselves how horrible things are.  I certainly catch myself doing that and making myself miserable. We all know people with many advantages who make themselves miserable because nothing is ever enough or good enough. We also know people who have a lot of disadvantages who are nevertheless happy with what they have. We have choices. And yes, there are feedback loops between the physical and the mental/emotional.

The physical act of smiling changes brain chemistry. It seems to me that the underlying mechanism, whether spirit or
chemistry, makes virtually no difference to the pragmatics – for example, meditation has certain outcomes – whether it is because it changes the brain chemistry or connects with a universal spirit. For me, that matter and energy transform and interact to create everything that we perceive is just as much or more mysterious and miraculous as believing in a spirit that somehow animates everything.

In this experiment, moving marbles from a lower box to a higher one caused participants to recall more positive experiences, and moving them downward to remember more negative experiences.