I'm trying an exercise designed by psychologists to help me gain my sanity by gently losing my mind. This process is utterly different from typical attempts to pursue happiness, most of which depend on controlling events and feelings.
Think of a problem that has plagued you for a long time—your weight, a loved one's bad habits, fear of terrorism, whatever. No doubt you've tried valiantly to control this issue, but are your efforts working? The answer has to be no; otherwise you would have solved the problem long ago. What if your real trouble isn't the issue you brood about so compulsively, but the brooding itself?
Psychologists who subscribe to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) call "clean" pain what we feel when something hurtful happens to us. "Dirty" pain is the result of our thoughts about how wrong this is, how it proves we—and life—are bad. The two kinds of suffering occupy different sections of the brain: One part simply registers events, while another creates a continuous stream of thoughts about those events. The vast majority of our unhappiness comes from this secondary response—not from painful reality but from painful thoughts about reality. Western psychology is just accepting something saints and mystics have taught for centuries: that this suffering ends only when we learn to detach from the thinking mind.
Get happy! Continue this exercise in acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
From the August 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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