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January: Optimism and Faith
Mindfulness has been considered a Buddhist term. But in psychology, it is the practice of awareness of one's inner motivation of the will to exercise a purposeful intention. As mentioned earlier (01/01/2011) the practice of Christian Faith in church attendance and fellowship brings about the effects of Mindfulness in terms of a "Bias for Good" in faithful living.
Fellowship is also about accountability where believers care for one another and share one another's burden. So in a special way, the Christians who fellowship practice mindfulness by using each other to help in being mindful.
Conquering Fear, by Melinda Beck in the WSJ, Wall Street Journal
Optimism: A form of perspective taking that takes on a "bias for good" mentality. An extreme form can be denial. True optimists are realists
It takes discipline to maintain a "bias for good" as the world is full of problems and challenges. They could be natural disasters that may not be preventable. I believe the devastations that caused us to surrender our optimism are preventable: Relationship breakups and emotional traumas or memories that could not be repaired. So the habit we need to form in the new year is to work towards a "mindfulness" so we can be like a warrior who has been prepared for a war of psychic pain when we least expect this.
The other extreme are people who has given up on optimism and they could not but to always be ready for the bad to come. They became pessimists for a reason: "It is better to be prepared for the worse" so "when disaster strikes we can be ready." Like the disciplined optimists, these people also work hard in preventing hardship but there is a curious psychological phenomenon that when we expect the worse, sometimes the worse will happen. This can be called "self-fulfilling prophesy."
People who has surrendered their will to pessimism because pain was too hard to take could only use denial to make their lives more livable. They refused to look at the bad but only amuses themselves in the good, despite it may only be temporary. The pitfall of this mentality is that there is no balance in life and nothing new can be learned for there is no "self-examination" or "reflection". Mistakes in life will continue because we can only accept a pain-free life; or a life running away from problems by avoidance and denial.
Christianity is about self-examination in accepting no one is perfect and we can only be redeemed through our admission of sin. Once this step is taken spiritual growth starts as we are empowered by the spirit. So the discipline of optimism resides in the habit of pursuit of spirituality. This has to be a discipline and like physical exercise has to be a daily practice.
At the start of a new year: The best mental health habit is to be Optimistic! (Martin Seligman). In Christianity, this is "Living in Faith"!
Optimism was considered the foundation against negative thinking. Seligman coined the term "Positive Psychology" in the study of the "good" in psychology instead of the disease model of psychiatry. Another word for optimism is positive thinking. It is obvious that the next question is: "What makes a person an optimist while another a pessimist? " This is a valid question and it should be a question that we all should care about as pathological pessimist can lead to suicide.
In Christianity, faith has long been consider a basic pursuit of holy living. We should live by faith and not by sight. So when Seligman discovered optimism as good mental health practices is no news to serious Christians who practice this habit everyday anyway.
Research has found over the years that "practicing Christians" (those who attend church regularly, as a research measure) do have better mental health. The main reason seems to be the fellowship of believers that caused the good health. This is part of the discovery thirty years ago about "social support" is good for maintenance of health in general (Aaron Antonovsky, UC Davis).