This essay was written with Anthony Evans. The Little Engine that Could is a classic story about the virtue of optimism. In this tale, the eponymous locomotive is challenged to carry freight over a steep mountain top. The little engine struggles in climbing the mountain, but ultimately succeeds in his mission. As the engine falters on its journey, it repeats the self-empowering mantra: "I think I can; I think I can." The little engine's message to readers is clear - maintain positive beliefs and you can accomplish great things. The utility of optimism is supported by research on social cognition. Psychologists Shelley Taylor and Jonathon Brown (1988) theorized that positive biases are beneficial for mental health and well-being. People show a positive bias when they perceive themselves and the world as being better than they actually are. Unrealistic optimism is one example of a positive bias. Most people believe that the present is better than the past, and moreover, that the future … [Read more...] about Self-control: When optimism is self-defeating
Source: Blue Nude, Henri Matisse, 1952 Fair Use If you need to reinvent yourself, consider the life of Henri Matisse. He swept into the art cosmos like a blazing comet and was world-famous by his early 20s. His paintings were in the most prestigious museums all over Europe. His only close competitor was Pablo Picasso. From his earliest beginnings, his paintings were a riot of color, and he was associated with the group of painters known as “The Fauvists” (the savages). Later on, in addition to its charismatic coloration, his work was noted for its flattened forms and antiphonal use of decorative patterns. Matisse’s mastery of painting technique was supreme. But when Matisse was in his 40s, tragedy struck. His body was invaded by cancer, and for the next several years, he struggled mightily to free himself from the disease. He traveled to exotic locales and tried every kind of therapy available. And all the while he painted, Matisse held a … [Read more...] about How Can You Reinvent Yourself?
Source: Pixabay, free usage, no copyright Someone once asked the poet Robert Frost if he had hope for the future. “Yes, I do,” Frost replied. “And I also have hope for the past. Because sometimes things look very different after they happen than they did at the time.” William Faulkner put it another way. He said, “The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” (From “Requiem for a Nun”) So, the past may be more negotiable than we thought. It may be that current events are like adjectives that can somehow act to alter or modify the noun of the past. Consider the life of C. P. Ellis. In 1971, the city of Durham North Carolina was going through a tumultuous change. The court had ordered the school system to desegregate, and the ruling, with its proposed changes, was causing great turmoil in city. Fearing civil unrest and violence, a … [Read more...] about Do You Have Hope for the Past?
Source: Brooke-Cagle/Unsplash I saw "Dear Evan Hansen," the hit Broadway musical, with my 15-year-old niece. She was enthralled months before we ever entered the theatre, knowing the words to every song. The messages resonated with everyone in the audience—whether in their teens or, like myself, long passed those tumultuous and difficult adolescent years. To explore their important messages more deeply and reach more parents and young people, the show’s creators expanded the play into Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel. It is a powerful portal into the teenage psyche. The book examines adolescence and its painful experiences—anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Although published as a YA book, this coming-of-age story draws an insightful portrait for parents about how teens act and respond to one another. It also paints a clear picture of how many perceive their parents—and what they need from them. Evan Hansen, a high school senior, is lonely and essentially … [Read more...] about The Book that Understands Teens Better than You Do
Source: wikimedia commos Our country today is angrier and more divided than almost ever before. Only during the Civil War do we find a time of greater national discord. Luckily, we had Abraham Lincoln during that tumultuous era, to help us mediate our near-fatal conflict. A great number of books have been written about Lincoln and his era. Most have focused on Lincoln from a historical perspective. We know what Lincoln did as an agent of history, but we don’t know as much about the character traits, the temperament, and the personal values that led to those historic actions. Who was Lincoln personally? And what can we learn from him today? In researching material on Lincoln’s psychological biography, a book I found extremely valuable was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterful study, Leadership in Turbulent Times. It is particularly helpful because she includes a great many quotes and observations from personal friends … [Read more...] about Divided America: What Can We Learn Today from Lincoln?