Disappointment. We all experience it. We all know what if feels like. We have all at some time or other said and done things when disappointed with our circumstances or other people that we have later regretted. But what are healthy ways to handle disappointment in our lives?
On this podcast I continue my conversation with the author John Hindley on his book, "Dealing With Disappointment: How To Know Joy When Life Doesn't Feel Great". (Our earlier conversation at Podcast #032 is here).
Disappointment can so easily come to dominate life - the nagging thought in the back of our minds and the constant "yes, but..." colouring all our pleasures.
Do join us as we discuss practical ways to find joy through disappointment. In particular we discuss:
Disappointment with my circumstances.
The power of a different perspective rather than relying on the stoicism that we tend to default to.
Or, in other words, how to defeat those painful things that are true by looking at things that are more true.
Finding a balance between working too much or too little.
Disappointment with my success.
John and I confess personal examples of how easy it is to tie up our meaning and identity with things that are actually quite trivial.
How the good things of life are a signpost to a far greater work and person we should be enamoured by.
How "the fuel for living a truly successful life is to know that you will one day live it perfectly, and with perfect satisfaction."
For more on this also see Podcast #002 Success.
Disappointment with myself.
How facing up to the painful reality that I am not the person I wish was can be not the last word in our lives, but part of our story to greater wholeness.
The freedom that comes from understanding, as John writes, "Your purpose in life is not to be perfect. Your purpose in life is to showcase God's grace to the imperfect."
Balancing in my life God's gift of forgiveness with the gift of integrity.
Disappointment with God.
For people of faith, this is probably the hardest disappointment to face up to. As John says, "If God is in control - and He is- then behind all your disappointments with your relationships, your circumstances, your ministry and yourself must lie disappointment with God......God could have, should have, might have....and didn't. So often, in so many small and serious ways, it feels as if God doesn't come through."
For more on this also see Podcast #028 The God I Don't Understand.
If your life isn't perfect..... you need to listen to this podcast!
One important way to get a handle on disappointment in our lives is to be able to take a higher perspective. Somebody who understood this well was the author C. S. Lewis. In 1942 he wrote the book The Screwtape Letters that has since then been continuously in print. It has been adapted into plays, made into a comic book, and recorded as an audio drama by the actor John Cleese. The Hollywood Film company Fox owns the film rights, and Ralph Winter, best known for blockbusters like “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” has said he will produce it.
The novel is a fictional account of a series of imaginary letters from a senior demon called Screwtape to a junior demon, Wormwood. It is a powerful perspective on the real life challenges of faith in God and handling disappointment. In the novel, God is the enemy. We eavesdrop on the schemes and strategy of two devils in the mind of a human being, described as 'the patient'. While being fiction, it provides piercing insight into the challenges we face in day-to-day life while pointing us to a higher spiritual perspective.
Modern 21st century secular thinking tends to have no place for the realm of a higher order of evil let alone for the existence of God. However, it is worth reflecting on that most of mankind has believed in the supernatural power of evil for much of history. There is also little else available to explain the power and rise of evil regimes and forces during the course of human history from the rise of Nazi Germany to the current horrors of North Korea.
The following short excerpt provides a powerful insight into disappointment:
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Disappointment is an experience we all go through at some time or other in our lives. While disappointment is a form of suffering, it is not the acute, dramatic, heart wrenching extreme painful form like sudden bereavement, or betrayal or torture or persecution. (For more on that type see here).
Instead disappointment is more subtle and insidious. But it is just as challenging. Like a hidden cancer under the surface it can eat away and destroy our sense of joy or wellbeing. It is linked to a general sense of frustration with life. Maybe there is a mild depression or even a root of anger, cynicism or bitterness.
Disappointment can be seen as a product of affluence and having an abundance of choices and opportunities (If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, then that includes you!). The truth is we have privileges and possibilities that are beyond the wildest imaginations of people of previous generations. But it doesn't feel like that. We have a tendency to say something along the lines of, 'Yes I know I should be thankful, but....' It's what you say to yourself or others after that 'but' is the disappointment we are talking about.
John Hindley in his book 'Dealing With Disappointment: How To Find Joy When Life Doesn't Feel Great,' defines disappointment as "What we experience when we expect satisfaction and this satisfaction is denied." John goes on to give the almost banal example of coming home from a long day's work expecting his family to welcome him and finding that they are out somewhere. So he feels disappointed - he expected a certain satisfaction and it was denied. There is certainly nothing earth shattering about that.
Disappointment is that sense my life is ok, my marriage is ok, family life is ok..... even worse I have achieved my dreams and I am still empty and unsatisfied.
I remember in my own life how I acutely felt that in the summer of 2001. I had just been confirmed in my job as a consultant psychiatrist. I had reached the top of the career ladder after a six year medical degree and 11 years of work and study. I was happily married with the joyful arrival of our third child. I was actively involved in church leadership and ministry. On the surface everything looked so good. If you had asked me I would have said yes there is a lot to be thankful for. But (there was a but) yet the biggest thing I remember feeling at that time was a profound sense of emptiness, which was so disappointing.
Unchecked there are three main dangers of disappointment:
Dr Daniel Amen is an American psychiatrist and director of the Amen Clinics in North America. Amen's six clinics specialize in the use of brain imaging equipment (Single Photon Emission Computerised Tomography or SPECT) in diagnosing psychiatric disorders. He has also written ten books on his work that have hit the New York Times bestseller list.
Below is a 14 minute TED talk given by Dr Amen in 2013 entitled "The Most Important Lesson From 83,000 Brain Scans". He speaks candidly and openly about his own life journey along with his passion for psychiatry and mental health:
A SPECT scan is a type of nuclear imaging test, which means it uses a radioactive substance and a special camera to create 3-D pictures. So while imaging tests such as X-rays can show what the structures inside your body look like, a SPECT scan produces images that show how your organs work. Thus a brain SPECT scan can show not only how blood flows to your brain, but also which areas are more active or less active.
However, Amen's methodology has been criticized by some psychiatrists and neuroscientists on ethical and safety grounds.
Since the original TED talk above Dr Amen and his team has gone on to have done over 100,000 brain scans using SPECT. His organisation has the world's largest database of brain scans related t0 behaviour on patients from at the last count 111 countries. He states that his work has been published in over 70 peer reviewed journals on subjects such as:.....
“If you want to be a billionaire, sleep as little as possible.” Donald Trump.
“Sleep is a criminal waste of time. A heritage from our cave days.” Thomas Edison.
“Every important mistake I’ve made in my life, I’ve made because I was too tired.” Bill Clinton
Sleep. So easy to take for granted, but so essential – especially if you are not getting enough. And yet there is so much bravado and neglect when we think about sleep. Whatever you may think of Donald Trump and Thomas Edison, their opinions on sleep are way off the mark when it comes to what the research and even what common sense shows. And whatever your opinion of Bill Clinton there is much wisdom in his reflection on sleep and making errors of judgement.
On this podcast my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss:
The importance of prioritising sleep in our lives.
The dangerous consequences of not having enough sleep.
How do I know I am getting enough sleep?
An embarrassing example in my life of not getting enough sleep.
How much are people in positions of authority making decisions from a place of inadequate sleep?
A Biblical perspective on sleep.
Three suggestions for those struggling to get to sleep.
I have to admit when it comes to appreciating nature I have been a slow learner. Perhaps it has something to do with being the son of South Asian immigrant parents and feeling driven to succeed academically above anything and everything else. Or maybe it had something to do with assuming practical aesthetics were only a luxury for rare occasions. However, whatever the reason, appreciating natural beauty and surroundings was for many years not been a priority to me. Much to my own loss.
To my shame I have to confess that when my wife Sally and I moved to a new house in 1996 with the choice as to how we would design the garden area my natural inclination was to propose that we just concreted it all over! Thank goodness Sally over-ruled me on that!
Taking time out to connect with nature through gardening, going for a walk or even to just get some fresh air can be enormously rejuvenating. There is something about being in the countryside or by the beach that recharges and rejuvenates us like nothing else can. Even I have come to instinctively appreciate that! But I am not the only one who has ignored or downplayed the importance of the environment to psychological wellbeing.
For as long as anyone can seem to remember in most societies progress has been measured by increase in average income and the numbers of people moving from rural areas to the cities. That is how unquestioned and unchallenged economic decisions have been made for centuries. But we are slowly and surely also realising that such progress does not lead to the health and well-being we hoped for. In fact more urbanised and industrialised societies are experiencing increasingly greater levels of physical and psychological distress from conditions such as obesity and diabetes to chronic loneliness, depression and other mental health problems.
When it comes to understanding well-being then there are two important components to consider - the person's sense of contentment and the ability to cope with life's challenges (resilience). There is increasing research evidence to show that spending time in nature has a significant and positive impact on both contentment and resilience....
Russell Foster is a professor of circadian neuroscience at the University of Oxford. In this 22 minute TED talk he very helpfully explains the importance of something we so often take for granted and underestimate the importance of - sleep! Or to put it another way, sleep is the single most important behavioural experience we have. We spend on average 36% of our life sleeping. So for someone living to say the age of 90, they will have spent on average 32 years asleep! When you put it in those terms then sleep at some level is a really important part of being human. So what has science so far learnt about sleep?
Professor Foster helpfully explains that when you sleep your brain doesn't just turn off, but that there are a huge raft of different interactions going on within the brain.
So why do we sleep? Its likely that there are a multitude of different reasons. Some of the most common:
Identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking habits
We all know what physical strength is. But inner mental strength? What is it? Put in the simplest terms mental strength refers to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.
Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is Amy Morin. She is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University in the United States. In this powerful 15 minute video she very helpfully explores three kinds of destructive beliefs that can derail us and rob us of our mental strength.
What makes her explanation particularly meaningful is that she talks not just as a psychologist, but from her own experience at the age of 23 with the sudden loss of her mother and then exactly 3 years later of her then husband.
As she says about that time,
"So now I found myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn't have my Mom. I thought, 'How am I going to get through this?' And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realised when you're going through tough times, good habits aren't enough. It only takes one or two bad habits to really hold you back...... Because sooner or later you're going to hit a time in your life where you will need all the mental strength you can muster."
Even after these tough experiences Amy Morin still had further challenges in her life to deal with, but her insights about helpful and unhelpful thinking habits are universally applicable.
It's not necessarily a comfortable subject to talk about, but it is increasingly relevant in the complex and challenging world we live in. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that has profound effects on many aspects of our lives. It covers a wide range of emotions that include physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment from others as ell as an overall reduction in performance and levels of effectiveness.
In this podcast conversation, my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss our own personal experiences of burnout.