I was looking up something in Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s excellent book, The How of Happiness, and I came across an interesting passage. (I’d marked it, so clearly I’d read it before, but I didn’t remember it well.)
Many of us believe that when we feel down, we should try to focus inwardly and evaluate our feelings and our situation in order to attain self-insight and find solutions that might ultimately resolve our problems and relieve unhappiness. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, I, and others have compiled a great deal of evidence challenging this assumption. Numerous studies over the past two decades have shown that to the contrary, overthinking ushers in a host of adverse consequences: It sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negatively biased thinking, impairs a person’s ability to solve problems, saps motivation, and interferes with concentration and initiative. Moreover, although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives.
One of the tensions within happiness — at least for me — is the tension between constructive attempts at greater self-knowledge and pointless rumination.
Once I started paying more attention to my habits of thinking, I began to do a better job of refraining from overthinking. When I find myself thinking in circles, I find an area of refuge, say, or I re-read one of my favorite works of children’s literature — my favorite emotional comfort food. Or, if it’s nightime, I go to bed early. Things really do look better after a good night’s sleep, and often something that had me agitated the night before seems much less worrisome the next morning.
Have you found any helpful strategies to keep yourself from overthinking?
If you’re in a Happiness Project group, please do fill out this six-question survey. I’m going to post a list soon, and I want it to be as complete as possible. Thanks!
Volunteer as a Super-Fan, and from time to time, I’ll ask for your help. Nothing too onerous, I promise. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. If you’re already a Super-Fan, thanks again. I so appreciate your help.