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


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