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Mental Habits

It is evident from the foregoing that physical habits have much to do
with making life easier and saving expenditure of nervous energy, but
just this same thing holds good for mental states. With care, a proper
habit of mind and of the mental attitude towards difficulties in life,
can be so cultivated as to ward off many of the discouragements, and
most of the causes of depression that weigh heavily on some people.
The natural disposition can not be entirely overcome, but habit, as a
second nature, can modify the personality so as to make conditions
much better than before.

With this wonderful power in habit, it is too bad that its force for
good is not used. It is especially important that its force for evil
shall not allowed to dominate human actions so as to make them harder
of accomplishment. Many people, who are greatly troubled by the
inconveniences and discomforts necessarily associated with human life,
worry over it to such a degree as to make themselves sick. The
expression I have quoted elsewhere of the old man who said, "I have
had many troubles but most of them never happened," is a typical
example of what the habit of looking at things from a wrong standpoint
means to many people. They are confirmed pessimists. Their one
consolation, when a small evil happens to them, is that perhaps this
may be sufficient to ward off the greater evil that fate surely has in

Pessimism.--Pessimism has been defined as sticking one's nose in a
dungheap and then asking, "How is it that it smells bad around here?"
Some people are always nursing a grievance. No matter how many times
they may happen to have been undeceived, still the next time the
opportunity occurs they are sure that fate or friends or someone has
it in for them and that the worst may happen at any time. In the
expressive words of a recent slang phrase, they have a "perennial
grouch." This state of mind toward the environment not only prevents
the physical and mental good that cheerfulness brings with it, but it
unfavorably influences physical conditions within the body. People
suffering from indigestion are usually morbid, petulant, and hard to
get along with. Many a dyspeptic makes this an excuse for his bad
temper. Anyone who has had to study these cases much soon comes to the
conclusion that the beginning of the digestive disturbance was the
gloomy outlook on life, which flowed inward to disturb the digestion
and all the other animal functions.

Depression of Mind and Body.--Patients suffering from melancholia
nearly always lose in weight. As a result of their lowered vitality,
there is a suppression of the nervous impulses which rule over
nutrition, with a consequent loss of weight. In cases where there are
only tendencies to depression and gloom, the effect upon the digestive
system is not so marked but there is no doubt that there is some
effect, and that the indigestion in these cases is more often than not
a result of the depressed state of mind, rather than the depression of
mind the result of the indigestion.

Moodiness.--The habit of looking at the gloomy side of things is
easily formed and, once acquired, it becomes very forceful. Many a man
who was quite cheerful when young, becomes moody as he grows older.
Nearly everyone permits moods more than is good for him. The attitude
of mind that should be cultivated is one in which it is realized that,
though there may be many sources of evil in the world there is a
preponderance of good even in the worst environment, and that
opportunities for making the best of things will be found by any
cheerful disposition. Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch is a typical
example in fiction of the optimism that counts. Miss Helen Keller in
real life is a typical example of how the most untoward circumstances
can not crush the spirit of man if he only wishes to be cheerful--if
he only tries to lift himself above his surroundings, no matter how
discouraging they may seem to be. No one is without discouragement and
causes for unhappiness. "Happy he who has least," the Greek dramatist

The difference between the optimistic and the pessimistic point of
view is much more a matter of habit than is usually thought to be the
case. Indeed, there is good reason for assuming that it is so largely
a matter of habit, that other factors count for little. We all know
individuals who, after having, been cheery, bright, hopeful and
helpful, have had some incident sour them and then they have been just
the opposite. This did not come all at once; it was a growth. They
felt hurt and aggrieved, and then began to look at things through dark
glasses, and after a time could see nothing on its brighter side. Not
infrequently, as doctors well know, the growth of such a moody
disposition has been the signal for the development of a series of
complaints, if not of actual symptoms, and men and women who have not
been in the doctor's hands before now become valetudinarians. This new
physical condition is often attributed by their friends, by
themselves, and even by complacent physicians, to the effect upon them
of the trial or disappointment that struck them. Only too often it is
wholly due to the cultivation of a habit of pessimism consequent upon
a shock that for the moment pushed their cheerfulness into the
background. Strong characters will not be thus easily affected, but
weaker characters need not suffer such a change of disposition and
with it a deterioration of health or well-being unless they so will

Next: Manners And Disposition

Previous: Physical Habits

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