Ask Dr. Ellis
Question: How can you use REBT principles and practices to make yourself happy, particularly when you are faced with injustices and oppositions?
Answer: In your regular life, you can see that most of your needless misery and rage are not directly caused by unfortunate Adversities or Activating Events (A’s) that occur in your life—such as financial losses, illnesses, and ecological disasters (e.g., hurricanes and heat waves) but are mainly caused by your destructive thoughts, feelings, and actions. You choose to add to unfortunate A’s your own B’s (Beliefs, Emotions, and Actions). Thus, you add to unfortunate financial reverses healthy B’s (“I don’t like this! I wish it weren’t so! What can I do to gain back the money I lost?”) And then you experience at C the Consequences of healthy caution, sorrow, and regret. Fine!
But you also may add to your unfortunate A’s about financial losses, unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and actions—such as unhealthy B’s (“How awful! I should and must not have made those financial mistakes! I can’t stand it! What a hopeless dunce I am for behaving so stupidly!”) You then experience destructive consequences (C’s) such as self-downing, awfulizing, and inertia about recouping your losses. You thus make yourself disturbed about your financial mistakes. You create much misery.
To combat your normal and frequent “horror,” you can use REBT ideas to Dispute your destructive beliefs. For example: “Why must I never make financial errors? Answer: There is no reason why I must not, though it would be highly preferable if I made fewer errors.” You ask yourself, “Why is it awful to make financial blunders? Answer: It is not totally bad nor terrible, only quite inconvenient.” You ask yourself, “Will I remain a hopeless financial idiot forever? Answer: No, I can learn by my mistakes and make fewer of them in the future.”
If you actively Dispute (D) your destructive beliefs, feelings, and actions at B, you will create healthy instead of unhealthy ones and will make yourself reasonably happy, and perhaps quite happy, at point E, your Effective New Philosophy, Emotion, and Behavior. Keep finding and Disputing your Irrational Beliefs (IBs) with which you make yourself miserable, and you will regularly uproot them and be happy. Try it and see!
How can you be happy when very unfortunate events assail you—such as chronic illness, drastic poverty, and homelessness? Answer: You probably can’t be, because you’d feel, at the very least, keen frustration, sorrow, and disappointment. These are healthy feelings, but still far from good. So you had better first fight against your unhealthy feelings of self-damnation (“I absolutely should not have got myself into this fix. And since I did what I must not do, I am a rotten, damnable person!”). Second, fight against other damnation (“Other people helped bring about my terrible state, and they are no good, damnable people!”). Third, fight against hopelessness (“Conditions will always be this bad and I can do nothing to change them, as I must be able to do.”)
If you steadily work at these three desperate thoughts, feelings, and actions, and use REBT’s many cognitive, emotive, and behavioral methods (which I describe elsewhere) to do so, you can even be reasonably happy when you are afflicted with great Adversities. Once again: Try it!